Bruno Johnson, an African-American detective in LA, goes undercover to figure out if a group of cops has gone rogue.
Bruno’s white former girlfriend, Sonja, knocks on his door one day and stuns him by handing over their newborn daughter to raise, a child he didn’t know existed. He and his father welcome the baby’s presence, but life turns dicey when Bruno is assigned to the LA County Sheriff's Violent Crimes Team. An early case results in the unnecessary death of a suspect, and his boss, Lt. Robby Wicks, invites him to a barbecue “to celebrate the team’s first kill.” “A man died,” Bruno says. “That’s nothing to celebrate.” But the barbecue is an excuse to have him meet Deputy Chief Rudyard, who wants him to go undercover in a police narcotics squad that's operating a murder-for-hire ring and identify “the dog heavy”—that is, the person running the operation. Bruno is a likable and principled character who knows he’s being sucked into a bad situation and can’t do much to avoid it, even becoming an unwitting accessory to murder. Some of his racist colleagues hate him—one refers to himself and Bruno as “a white guy and a smoke,” and Bruno struggles to contain his rage. Whether a white author can truly understand a black cop’s feelings about racism is hard to know, but Putnam (The Vanquished, 2017, etc.) creates a sympathetic hero. Meanwhile, people may not be who they say they are, and no colleague is above suspicion. “They need to get you dirty more than ever,” Wicks tells Bruno in the middle of the operation, and “they” are on the brink of succeeding. The scenes feel authentic and tense thanks to Putnam’s decades of law enforcement experience.
Great reading for crime-fiction fans.