The Sinister by David Putnam—hard-boiled crime fiction that’s written the way it always should be written, with hard edges and buckets of blood and bone.
I’m a reader who always wants to start a series with the first book, yet found myself reading The Sinister by David Putnam even though it’s the ninth novel in the Bruno Johnson crime series. Before picking up this book, I’d never heard of David Putnam or his bestselling series. I only read and reviewed it because the publisher kindly reached out to me by email. But now, after reading my first David Putnam crime novel, I have only one question. How is it that I’ve never heard of this guy before? This book hands down the best hard-boiled crime fiction novels I’ve read in recent memory and the kind of book that’s right in my wheelhouse. The Sinister opens with a bang, and the breathtaking pace continues until the very end.
Bruno Johnson, shaken to his core, but still a formidable force—unrelenting when it comes to saving a child
Ex-cop, ex-con Bruno Johnson and his wife Marie hide in plain sight from the law in an upscale L.A. hotel as Bruno heals from a run-in with a brutal outlaw motorcycle gang—and the loss of his son—a son he didn’t know he had until it was too late.
Marie, now pregnant with her first child, fears Bruno may never fully recover. She knows that soon they must return to Costa Rica to rejoin their large family of rescued children—kids who owe their lives to Bruno and Marie’s intervention.
But when Bruno’s friend, FBI Deputy Director, Dan Chulack, pleads with Bruno to help rescue his kidnapped granddaughter, escape plans are put on hold. After exhausting all legitimate investigative avenues, Chulack seeks Bruno’s brand of justice. With Marie’s reluctant consent and her own special expertise, they plunge into the evil world of those who prey on children.
Meanwhile, Bruno’s mother, a woman he has never known, appears asking for forgiveness—and Bruno’s assistance—while bringing her own set of complications. Bruno finds his professional and his personal lives colliding in a pursuit that is excruciating and brutal.
If Bruno Johnson had any luck, it would probably be all bad. He’s an ex-cop who spent decades on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department hunting down the most violent criminal fugitives and a paroled ex-con. When the book opens, Johnson is in nine kinds of trouble.
Recently released from a Los Angeles hospital, he is still recovering from a gunshot chest wound and weak as a kitten. Johnson is also the subject of multiple arrest warrants on kidnapping and murder charges. He’s even made the Los Angeles FBI field office’s local Ten Most Wanted List. He and his pregnant wife, Marie, are holed up in a Glendale long-stay hotel, laying low and hoping to stay off the law enforcement radar until Bruno is well enough for them to travel back to their home in Costa Rica. Additionally, Bruno suffers from nightmares over a horrific experience from his recent past.
Bruno Johnson isn’t a real criminal even with the arrest warrants and his history as a paroled ex-con. Instead, he’s an archetypal knight errant in the mold of Chandler’s Marlowe and Parker’s Spenser. Yes, Bruno is a little on the thuggish side, but with a heart of gold and a strong moral compass. It’s just that he isn’t opposed to crossing the line where the law is concerned when it is necessary to mete out his special brand of street justice to those who have it coming.
As if Bruno Johnson doesn’t have enough troubles of his own, a friend, FBI Assistant Director Dan Chulack, reaches out to dump a load of his troubles on Johnson. Someone kidnapped Chulack’s granddaughter and her nanny and demanded a $2 million ransom. The FBI handled the case but in less than stellar fashion. While they captured one suspect when he showed up at the drop to collect the ransom, the FBI lost the ransom money and failed to get the little girl or the nanny back. Now it seems everyone has lost hope of getting the victims back alive. Well aware of Johnson’s reputation as a manhunter who always gets his man, Chulack asks Bruno to find the kidnappers and give them the kind of justice he is known for delivering.
Having a soft spot for kids, Johnson agrees to help his friend, though he isn’t in any physical condition to do it. Yet he gives the case his all with the help of his sidekick, Karl Drago, a former motorcycle gang member who is even rougher and more violent than Bruno. Along the way, another sidekick, a tough, hardcore female sheriff’s detective named Helen Hellinger, forces her way onto Bruno’s team. She plays an integral role in searching for the bad guys and saves Bruno’s bacon more than once.
There was much I liked about David Putnam’s writing style and storytelling. He nails it when it comes to writing hard-boiled crime fiction in a way rarely seen these days. His descriptive prose accurately portrays Los Angeles in almost a panoramic way, from the geography to the city’s hard edges to the gritty, noirish shadowy areas.
There are a few implausible situations in The Sinister, something crime fiction enthusiasts don’t suffer gladly. But Putnam more than makes up for these minor literary license detours by offering solid, raw authenticity where it matters most. The genuine “cop-speak” and natural language and descriptions of all things law enforcement-related make the reader realize right away that author has spent time on the mean streets himself. So it was no surprise to learn Putnam is a retired law enforcement officer with broad experience.
This book is long but packed with action. Once you start reading, it’s tough to put down. The plot is intriguing and well-balanced against a mix of likeable and thoroughly unlikeable characters. The combination translates into a riveting read. I’ll certainly be adding some of the earlier Bruno Johnson novels to my to-read list.
The Sinister by David Putnam is hard-boiled crime fiction written the way it always should be written, with hard edges and buckets of blood and bone. Oceanview Publishing will release The Sinister on February 22, 2022. I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review representing my honest opinions.