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Retribution (novel)

Retribution, a 2004 legal thriller, is the first novel by Jilliane Hoffman. After being published in January 2004 it became a top-three best seller in the USA and top 10 in Europe. This graphic serial killer/courtroom thriller puts its readers in a situation of choice between justice and retribution in its hardest form.

Plot Summary

The book consists of three parts, first taking place in New York followed by episodes two and three in Miami.

Part I

In the beginning of the first act we are introduced to the life Chloe Joanna Larson, a blond, beautiful law student at a school of law in New York. In the first chapters we find out different facts about her rather boring life consisting of two things: cramming for the New York State exam and going out with her boyfriend, who appears to be a successful businessman called Michel Decker. Until a certain point the book appears to be rather a love story than a thriller, but when the time has come a serial murderer comes to her life.

After coming back home from an unsuccessful date with Michael, Chloe notices that certain things are missing from her mailbox, her room and her laundry. Thinking that those are only some tricks from her mentally disturbed neighbour she goes to bed. In that moment the serial murderer climbs through a broken window into her first floor apartment. Slowly walking from the kitchen to the bedroom, he takes his bag of "tricks" from his jacket. After bursting into the room he ties Chloe up and sadistically rapes her with different items, including a knife, until the grey hours of Monday morning. While doing it he frightens her by telling everything about herself, including things that no one except herself and her family could possibly know, like her childhood nickname. In the end he wounds and maims Chloe multiple times with the knife, letting her lie tied up on her bed and bleeding to death both internally and externally. By a coincidence, one of her friends finds Chloe in her locked apartment and calls the ambulance. With the great deal of luck surgeons manage to save the life of the, until now very successful, law student. As result of the rape, Chloe becomes sterile.

A few days later Chloe fails the exam, loses her boyfriend and temporarily becomes a hotel clerk, being unable to pay for her further education. In a state of depressions followed by thoughts of the serial killer being not far away, Chloe stands all alone in New York City.

Part II

12 years later...

It is the hot summer of the year 2000. We are in state Florida now, where the serial murderer, known as "Cupid", massacres young girls aged from 18 to 23, by carving their hearts out and displaying their bodies in conspicuous places and in an inhumane staging. Special Agent of Florida Law Enforcement Dominick Falconetti, his partner detective Manuel Alvarez and other specialist are put on the case.

Chloe Larson does not exist anymore. Instead of her we see a highly specialized lawyer C.J. Townsend from the Office of Public Prosecutor. After twelve years, with a help of a professional and very expensive psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Chambers, she manages to run away from her daily fears. Now, as a right hand of the public prosecutor, C.J. is assigned to advise the detectives on the Cupid case.

While the time is flowing and the number of the brutally murdered victims increases, a wonder happens. During a routine control of a car, which exceeded the speed limitation, the driver refuses to open the trunk. The inexperienced, young policeman calls for backup and a K9 hound unit. Shortly after the hell breaks loose and the highway becomes completely crowded with policemen, press, television, FBI and special agents, including agent Falconelli. The 11th corpse with Cupid's signature is found in the car of the rich salesman William Rupert Bantling.

At first the case seems to be clear and it seems that there are no barriers between Bantling and the poison syringe, but then the trouble begins again. C.J. recognizes her assaulter. While she begins to get doubts about taking on the case, Bantling gets himself a good lawyer and prepares for defence, but yet doesn’t recognize his victim.

The time passes on and Bantling and his lawyer are finding different excuses for the dead body in the car, blood rest in his gardening house and his strange attraction to Sado-pornography. Bantling appears to be a person, who simply discovered the body when he was stopped on the highway after getting his Jaguar from the repairs. The blood in his gardening house supposedly comes from the animals, which he enjoyed making dolls from. The car was stopped, because of an anonymous radio tip and therefore was illegally inspected. Last but not least Bantling identifies C.J. and tries to get her off the case. The whole process seems to crush together and C.J. begins to lose hope and starts to understand that she needs better evidence. She needs to find where Bantling has hidden his trophies like the other series killers do. She needs to find the hearts.

Part III

While duelling Bantlings lawyer, Lourdes, a relationship begins to develop between C.J. and detective Falconelli. C.J. tries to keep away from the Agent in Charge, but soon she understands that there’s no chance to escape the instincts. Soon afterwards, she once again goes to her psychiatrist and tells his about Dominick, however instead of wishing them all the best, Dr. Chambers advises her to stay away from detective Falconelli, because "in hard times, people often make false decisions".

In the mean time Lourdes understands that her acts are moraly disgusting and that she is trying to give freedom to a crazy maniac, responsible for a dozen of rapes and murders. The question of justice, for which she has to fight as a lawyer, doesn’t go out of her head. Lourdes feels that she simply can’t use the twelve-year-old connection between Bantling and C.J., because of multiple moral issues. So she decides to continue handling the case, but whatever happens keep Bantling mouth shut about the story of poor Chloe Larson.

In these hard for C.J. moments, she finds another riddle for her. In the note book of William Bantling lays a note with the telephone number of Dr. Gregory Chambers. Chambers says that he couldn’t tell C.J. that he was also handling Bantling as a patient because of the medical secrecy.

When the case seems to be closed and Bantling is virtually being set free, the group of special agents finds the hearts of all eleven victims, in a good hidden place. After a rather short wait all the lay people decide that William Rupert Bantling is guilty and should be punished with the death penalty. Bantling stands up and tells all the truth about his and C.J., which is being rejected straight away by the court.

When everything seems as a happy ending, Dr. Chambers invites C.J. for a bottle of champagne, in order to celebrate the "cured patient". In the end of the evening however he tells her that he knows something, what C.J. has already suspected for a long time. He says that Bantling didn’t work alone. When she hears these words the soporific in the champagne begins to work and she falls on the floor unconscious.

After an unknown period of time, she wakes up in a small chamber with black walls, a table with a set of scalpels on it and a mirror on the top. C.J. guesses right away, who the second murderer is, and tries to run away, but quickly understands that she is under Haloperidol, a drug that was found in the bodies of all other victims, making the patient's muscles relax and thus making it impossible for him to move any part of his body, but nevertheless letting him feel everything. With a little luck C.J. steals two scalpels and hides both of them underneath her arms. When the time is ripe, she uses her last powers and divides two parts of Aorta on Chamber’s neck, in the last final thrust of energy. While heavily wounded once again she manages to get out of the death chamber, which appears to be hidden in the depths of Dr. Chambers house, and calls police.

Once again with a great deal of luck C.J. Townsend survives the hospital operation and recovers from "the battle". She drives of with her new lover, Special Agent in Charge Dominick Falconelli, to a well-deserved holiday.

Literary significance & criticism

The main character is the lawyer C.J. Townsend. Though she is not a negative character she is strict to her inferiors. This however can be explained by the rape and the terrible time she has gone thought after the "incident". The murderer has changed her not only physically, but also mentally. Nevertheless in most cases she can’t be described as unfair. Even in the most horrific moments, when she has a choice between justice and revenge C.J. doesn’t fall on the wrong side.

C.J. demonstrates a great strength as a character. Though completely depressed, hopeless and worn out she doesn’t stop and continues the fight for "the higher purpose". She virtually sacrifices her relationship, works day and night and looks though the clues multiple times to render justice. In fact justice is the major point of the book. The author is asking us what the right act for C.J. would be and how would we act in her situation. The other strong point of the book is determination until the very end.

The book keeps the tension high until the very last pages and simply doesn’t let go. It does not only contain the completely unexpected threat, but also informs us of some interesting insider information of Law Enforcement and Justice Offices. Though it is the first book of Jilliane Hoffman it is clearly a masterpiece.

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