Wednesday 27 February 2019


David Putnam, author of the Bruno Johnson series and more, joins me for a catch-up a few years after our last chat.

Our last chat was back in 2015 and I think the second Bruno Johnson book, The Replacements had just been published. Nearly four years on, the sixth - The Reckless has just dropped and you've published two other works of fiction - Fire at Will and The Bun Boy of Baker. 
How does this author-writer malarkey compare to 20 plus years working in Law Enforcement? 

I worked in law enforcement a total of 31 years and during most of that time I wrote in the morning before I left for work. I wrote 38 novels before I sold the first one, the Disposables number 34. I guess it took this knuckle-dragging street cop that long to figure out how to write. It seems though, that I am working harder now as a full time writer than when working the street. And in many ways the writing job is more difficult. I never like talking in public and now I’m doing a great many talks every year.

Your latest Bruno Johnson book - The Reckless is the sixth in the series and another jolt back in time to an early part of Bruno's career. Can you pitch it to a reader in a short paragraph?

 Every Bruno book is a snapshot of something that happened in my career. The Reckless is loosely based on my time working on the violent crimes team. We were tasked with chasing a husband wife team who recruited teens off basketball courts in South Central Los Angeles. The teens were brainwashed into believing that if caught robbing banks they would not serve time in prison. Our problem: how to take down misguided juveniles armed with guns without anyone getting hurt. During the real life case while under cover I had the occasion to sit down in a bar and talk with one of the male adult suspects without him being aware I was a cop on his tail. It was surreal to me and thought it would blend well in this story. He became the Darkman.

Is there one of your series books you are more prouder of than any of the others? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader and why?

The Reckless, because its an emotional one for me. A fifteen-year-old rock coke dealer killed a good friend I worked with on the street. I incorporated this part of my experience in this book. And the reviews coming in are great especially from unbiased readers.

I'm guessing you haven't yet exhausted your cache of police experiences and memories and that there will be further Bruno tales ahead, can you confirm?

Yes, I had a pretty busy career and still have plenty of stories to draw from.

And what direction might they take, early parts of his career or back up to the present day and his exile?

The publisher just picked up the third prequel titled for right now as The Heartless. I am almost done with the fourth and final prequel where I finish catching up the readers on all of the back story. That book for right now is called The Ruthless, and is really turning out to be one of the better in the series. My opinion of course. In The Ruthless I delve a little into what happened to Bruno’s mother. In all the other books the topic of his mother is discreetly ignored. Now I’ve given it motivation, and action and reaction. I like the conflict that arose out of it. Now I’m thinking I might write an early book (with Bruno as a small child) with the story centered around Bruno’s father, Xander Johnson. Readers always tell me how much they like Xander.

But in addition I have two story lines sketched out for the current day storyline, one is where Chelsea resurfaces, and another where Blue, the bad guy from the Innocents comes back and wreaks havoc from his wheel. I would probably do those first. One plotline I have not utilized as yet was an armed robber/kidnapper who I shot way back at the beginning of my career. He’s still in prison but will forever be riding a wheelchair. That storyline is going to be an emotional one as well.

Are you surprised at the popularity the Bruno Johnson books seems to be enjoying?

I appreciate the idea that you think they are popular, I’m still a very small fish in a large pond. I do truly enjoy when I talk to a fan at a signing, or via email and they like the stories. So I guess the answer to your question is yes. The Reckless seems to generating a higher response from regular readers and that is heartening.

Any sniffs from film and TV types for an adaptation of the character's stories?

There was interest by a couple of producers but national politics intervened and put the kibosh on it. Since it is political I have a policy not to air it.

I'm also curious about the two standalone novels you've got out there, can you tell us a bit about both and what the inspiration or seed was that sparked Fire at Will and The Bun Boy of Baker?

I write two novels a year, one Bruno book and one that is exciting and fun, a real departure from my old friend Bruno. The Bun Boy of Baker idea came from a deputy I worked with who at one time had been assigned as the Resident Deputy for Baker. The Resident Deputy is alone to patrol a vast stretch of desert between Barstow and the Nevada border (including Baker). He’s given a ten percent bump in pay and a doublewide mobile home to live in. This deputy told me that he came home to his mobile home one day and found four women in his living room, three including his wife. He didn’t know they would be there and they were having a quiet social get together drinking wine and chatting. He came in sat down and joined the conversation. What no one knew in that room but him was that he was having an affair with all three women at the same time. I thought this an amazing story fraught with conflict and decided to write it.

Fire at Will was just an idea. I liked the old Topper movies and thought I’d give it another spin. I had a great deal of fun writing both of these novels. Of course neither found a home with a New York publisher so I decided to put them out myself in selfpub. I have a sequel to Fire at Will I have also completed and I think it’s better than the first. I’ve yet to put it up as a selfpub or to even market it for that matter. (Col If you’re interested I can email you a digital copy).

Is this the way forward for you as an author, continuing the series as well as exploring other characters and ideas with standalone offerings?

I have my hands full with the Bruno series, the writing and marketing which doesn’t leave enough time for selfpub. I have written a great FBI novel with a High Concept that I’m very optimistic about and plan on sending it out to New York in the up coming weeks.  I have two more in this series lined out in case someone picks it up. Do you know any publishers on your side of the pond who would be interested in picking up Bruno and over a high concept FBI book with a female protagonist? It’s called Wicked Red. She’s a redhead.

Any hints on the current work in progress and what we can expect from you next?

As I said, I have finished The Heartless, which the publisher picked up for 2020 and I’m just finishing The Ruthless (should finish next month) which if picked up would come out in 2021. I have several books in mind to write I had a lot of fun writing Wicked Red and will probably write a sequel of that one next.

I’m also tinkering with a memoir called Killing Uncle Don and other normal life stories. My aunt and my cousin hired a hitman and murdered my favorite uncle. It's a pretty good story.

Any advise for prospective authors out there?

The old saws regarding writing have great merit: have perseverance and never quit. And the other; write everyday, no matter what. Do your writing before all else. Get your four pages completed.

What are the last five books you're read and enjoyed?

I really loved Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk (but I realize this book would not be a good fit for mystery readers)
The Widow by Daniel Silva
The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
Savage Country by Robert Olmstead
and Blood Relations by Jonathan Moore

Anyone I should be reading that's escaped my radar? 

If you have not read Jonathan Moore, The Poison Artist, The Darkroom, Night Market and Blood Relations, this author is amazing and I don’t know why he is not more widely read.

Also, Harry Dolan. I don’t know why these two authors aren't talked about. Both 
are great craftsmen-prose masters.

What's the last film that rocked you?

David Lean movies have always been and always will be my favorites. Next Stanley Kubrick (most of his anyway). The Coen Brothers, Millers Crossing, No Country for Old Men etc.
But the most recent that really hit me between the eyes was Hell and High Water, what an amazing story, performance and production value.

Random question time - just as a bit of fun....

When did you last have a fist fight? 

My big mistake in my career was promoting from detective to sergeant. I went from total autonomy to supervising and in some cases supervising nightmare detectives like I used to be. My memory is fading but two come to mind. I was working patrol as a sergeant out in Joshua Tree. San Bernardino is the largest county in the United States, 20 thousand square miles. Joshua tree had 2200 of those square miles and we patrolled that area with four deputies per shift. A call went out of an assault with a deadly weapon, I was much closer than the responding deputy so I jumped the call. When I arrived I found an angry six foot seven, three hundred pound suspect who had just brutally assaulted some one. The responding deputy and closest back up was at least thirty minutes out. I told this guy to turn around and put his hands behind his back so that I could cuff him. Of course he attacked me. By the time I got him in custody, I was bruised and dirty from head to foot. I had to link two sets of handcuffs together to cuff him and he wouldn’t fit in the back of my cop car so I leaned his bloodied body against the trunk until the deputy with a larger car got there. I honestly didn’t think the fight was a big deal. I’d been in a lot worse with multiple suspects. When the deputy got there he was a little stunned. He said, “Do you know who this is? I shrugged, “nope.” He said the last time they had to arrest him it took five deputies. This was a nice ending fist fight for my career. I’ve been retired since 2011 and a deputy just two weeks ago came out for a book signing for The Reckless. With old age I had forgotten all about this incident. He told me that they are still telling that story all these years later. 

Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?

Who hasn’t? One night, while celebrating my transfer from Ontario Police Department to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s my friends took me out drinking. We were kicked out of three places that night. I think that was my record. Of course there is lots more to that story with gunshots involved.

 Do you have any tattoos? 

Not one.

What was your first pet’s name? 


What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten? 

This is a tough one as my wife is not a gourmet by any stretch. She only cooks things with three ingredients…Yikes. One time she put some instant stove top stuffing in the microwave. She used a non-microwave safe plastic bowl and…and she forgot to add the water. The stuffing and the bowl caught fire. I wasn’t made aware off the issue until the house fire alarm went off. The house smelled like plastic for weeks. So if asked for one particular meal I’d have to say I can’t remember there were many….Too many. An odd footnote to this story, my wife is a highly intelligent engineer who at one time worked at JPL so she is actually a rocket scientist.

Do you have any irrational fears? 

Spiders. There’s a good story here about spiders and author John Connolly and my wife at a book conference.

What’s your favourite holiday destination? 

We spend a lot of time in Hawaii

When did you last tell a lie? 

I stretch the truth everyday I sit down behind my laptop to write the days four pages. Though I have some great stories about lying to crooks. The law allows the cops to use whatever ruse or subterfuge on a crook. I used to lay awake at night thinking up ways to trick the crooks into my handcuffs. I was only limited by my creativity. As an example I’d tell crooks I had a portable polygraph machine in my cop car. I’d wrap the cord to the radio around his arm and hold the mic where couldn’t see it. I’d tell him to watch the little red light on the console if it goes on it means he’s lying. I’d ask him if he stole car, he say no. I press the mic button and turn the light red. I got a lot of cop outs that way.

Another one I later found other cops had been using though I thought I was unique. When copy machines first came out I'd write on a piece of paper, “Your lying,” And put it on the copier under the flap. Then ask, did you steal the car…well you get the idea.

I made case law three times in my career and in all the cops I have run into in my career I was the only one I came across. I’d walk the line of evidence to get someone in custody. I once searched a guy’s stomach for heroin balloons without a search warrant. That’s another good story.
A good cop uses lying as a tool in his toolbox. I got pretty good at it.


Many thanks to David Putnam for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following haunts...


And a bit more on his latest book The Reckless

Perfect for fans of Robert Crais and John Sandford

Bruno Johnson, a young and inexperienced LA County Deputy Sheriff, is trying to balance his life as the single father of a four-year-old daughter and his responsibilities as a cop in the Violent Crimes Unit. When he and his impetuous partner Ned Kiefer are put on loan to the FBI to help out with a "special problem," Bruno finds himself in a real bind.

The FBI hands Bruno and Ned a case that the Bureau prefers not to touch - a group of teenage criminals that are being run by a nefarious criminal known as the Darkman. Bruno discovers the identity of the Darkman and is stunned to realize that he is the perpetrator from a lingering unsolved case - a triple homicide that continues to haunt Bruno.

The problem is how to stop the juvenile criminals without killing kids, and at the same time, avoid being killed by the kids - or by the Darkman - and keep his reckless partner Ned under control.


  1. What a lot of experience and a wealth of stories a career as a police detective can give. That's a valuable resource for a writer, and it makes sense to use them in different books. Wishing you much success, and thanks, both, for the interesting interview.

    1. I guess Dave's never going to run out of source material, Margot. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

  2. Oh, PS: I assume "I don’t know why these two authors are talked about" is supposed to be something like "I don’t know why these two authors aren't talked about more"?

  3. Col, I enjoyed reading about the "fist fight" anecdote, the stuff of thriller books and movies, especially crime and western. I think writing and publishing 38 novels, most of those during his career in law enforcement, is really something. David Putnam's real-life story is an inspiration for wannabe writers.

    1. I did enjoy that story, Prashant. I think he's written a helluva lot more than he's published. Eight have seen the light of day to my knowledge. I think the rest were him honing his craft.