Mexican drug cartel, dismembered human bodies, millions laundered through a race horse operation. It sounds like the plot for one of James Lee Burke‘s “Hackberry Holland” novels.

Maybe fans will get lucky and Burke will write Hack into a similar plot. But luck ran out for Tremor Enterprises on Tuesday, June 12, when FBI raids shut down their Quarter Horse racing operation, including a stable at Ruidoso Downs in NM and Zule Farm in Lexington, Okla.

A powerful Mexican drug cartel known as Zetas, had been using Tremor to launder millions of dollars in drug money, and the Feds became suspicious when they learned Tremor had paid more than $1 million for two broodmares in a single day. While Zetas king pin Miguel Angel Trevino Morales lived on the run, and his henchmen dismembered victims and dumped their bodies along a busy Mexican highway (49 bodies last month alone), his brother and second-in-command, Jose Trevino, was rubbing shoulders with prominent horsemen at high-profile horse races and sales.

Details and back story on the raid and the Morales brothers and Zetas appeared in a front-page feature by Ginger Thompson in Tuesday’s New York Times.

For those who prefer cold reality filtered through fiction, I recommend James Lee Burke, a master of flawed characters and compelling plots, whose language draws the reader into the landscape, which in the case of the Holland novels is the Southwest.

“It’s like a picture postcard slashed with a bloody knife. It’s heart-breakingly gorgeous and sandpaper-harsh, both at the same time,” said one reviewer of Burke’s “Feast Day of Fools.”

“Holy shit does this novel crush into its pages a whole war chest of bloody drama and brutal questions about what it means to be an American and a Christian and a Christian American in the new century. . . . James Lee Burke—muscular and elegiac, brutal and compassionate—is a Stetson-wearing, spur-jangling giant among novelists,” said Benjamin Percy for Esquire.

Burke first found success with his character Dave Robicheaux, deputy sheriff of New Iberia, La., in a series that includes more than a dozen titles.

James Lee Burke with Love That Sante Fe and Missy's Playboy

His character Hackberry Holland is the middle-aged, widowed sheriff of a small Texas town near the Mexican border. Hack lives alone on a ranch, where he cares for two geldings, Missy’s Playboy and Love That Santa Fe (named for Burke’s own horses) to the point that he lines the sides of their water tank with wire mesh to assure that rats, if they fall in, will be able to climb out.

I can”t say enough good things about James Lee Burke based on his Hackberry Holland series, so I will stop here and provide links to: Feast Day of Fools, Rain Gods and Lay Down My Sword and Shield.