Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback – 30 November 2022)
Series: Lexi Winter – Book Two
Length: 349 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Australian author Sarah Barrie brings back her awesome vigilante protagonist, Lexi Winter, for another intense and dark crime fiction read in Retribution.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the 2021 Australian crime release, Unforgiven. An amazing novel by a talented Australian author, Unforgiven told the story of a former child abuse victim turned effective vigilante, Lexi Winter, who used her skills as a hacker to hunt down abusers online and bring them to justice. Initially keen to do her own thing, Lexi is forced to work with the police detective who failed her as a child when evidence at a series of murders suggests that the monster who ruined her childhood might still be out there. Unforgiven ended up being a shocking and captivating read that made great use of its darker subject matter to produce an addictive narrative. Unforgiven ended up being one of my favourite Australian fiction releases of 2021, and I have been keen to see how Barrie would follow this book up. Luckily, I received a copy of her sequel, Retribution, a few weeks ago, and it proved to be an outstanding read and a worthy sequel to Unforgiven.
Once a vigilante, she’s now a cop … but she still plays by her own rules. A fast-paced, suspenseful thriller for readers of Candice Fox and Sarah Bailey.
Ace hacker, ex-prostitute, Jack Daniels drinker and part-time vigilante Lexi Winter returns, now working with the police – mostly – with a new enemy in the target and an old foe at the back of her mind.
Most probationary constables would baulk at chasing a drug dealer into a train tunnel in the dead of night. Not Lexi Winter. She emerges injured but alive, to face the wrath of her boss. Lexi may now be in uniform, but she has as much trouble with authority as ever, and is quietly using her hacking skills to investigate a notorious drug-dealing Sydney crime family with links to her old prey, the paedophile Damon Vaughn.
Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson investigates a death on a Sydney building site … which oddly enough, leads him to the picturesque Wondabyne station on the Hawkesbury River, and Inspector Rachael Langley oversees an investigation that could tie it all together. Lexi holds the key … if only she’ll toe the line …
Retribution is an excellent follow-up to Unforgiven that provides the reader with an interesting continuation of the main character’s journey. Starting out about a year after the events of the first book, Barrie immediately introduces a new element to the story by having Lexi now an official member of the New South Wales police. However, despite her position, Lexi is the same reckless rebel who is using her spare time and hacker skills to mess with members of the infamous Hamill crime family, who are actively hiding her nemesis, the paedophile Damon Vaughn and his former police officer accomplice, Debbie Reynolds. Her efforts soon tie into the work of her friends, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson and Inspector Rachael Langley, who are not only involved with the official search for Vaughn and Reynolds but are investigating the murder of a successful businessman in a Sydney building site that has connections to the main case.
Barrie features a ton of distinctive plotlines in Retribution, and I really appreciated how she was able to keep up the darker tone that was such a distinctive feature of the previous book. The central focus on Lexi’s attempt to take down a notorious crime family was an awesome part of the book’s plot, and I felt that Barrie did a good job tying them into the previous book and making them a sensible continuation target for the protagonist. While they weren’t as despicable as the original antagonists of this series, they proved to be just as dangerous, and Barrie did an amazing job building them up quickly and making them a major threat. At the same time, the murder investigation that the other characters are involved in adds some fantastic mystery elements to the book. Not only does this result in a very compelling investigation with additional bodies, but it also ties into the rest of the story extremely well, especially when it is revealed that the murders have connections to the Hamill family. These two major storylines, as well as some interesting character development, blend well as the story continues and then end up becoming a fantastic joint case. The Hamills prove to be extremely impressive villains with some deadly plots they unleash against the police, and I loved seeing the protagonist take on a family, rather than a single potential threat. At the same time, the murder investigation slowly reveals a fantastically dark motivation that results in some great and memorable twists that I particularly enjoyed. Everything pulls together for an explosive conclusion which not only wraps up this narrative extremely well but also sets up a great potential sequel that I am quite excited for.
There was some good character work in Retribution as Barrie carries over all the major characters from the first book and keeps developing her central protagonist. As I mentioned before, the main character, Lexi Winter, goes through some major changes in this book as she moves from being a lone investigator to a member of the New South Wales police force. However, she still maintains her rebel attitude and her determination to solve everything herself. This, and her own deep trauma and desire for revenge, sees her attempt her own rogue mission against the Hamills, with some deadly consequences. I felt that this was a good natural progression of Lexi’s character, especially as she finds herself relying on other people especially after experiencing even more trauma in this second book. While I feel that Barrie is making some progress with Lexi, she still maintains a lot of rough edges, which I am sure will get addressed in the future. I did think that the repetitive reckless actions did get a little tiring as the book continued, but it generally results in some excellent storylines. The rest of the characters form an amazing supporting cast to Lexi, and there are a few interesting new characters that I really enjoyed. I must admit though that I didn’t massively care about Finn’s personal issues regarding his ex-wife, and I felt it was a bit of a distracting story element. I’m also not sure why Barrie introduced a hostile rivalry between Lexi and the new female member of the main police team, especially as it didn’t result in any major revelation or come to a good conclusion. Apart from that, I had a great time with the characters in Retribution and I look forward to seeing what happens to them in the next book.
Sarah Barrie’s excellent dark Australian crime fiction series gets an outstanding second book in Retribution. Combining some of the fantastic thriller elements from Unforgiven with a very clever murder mystery, Retribution continues the Barrie’s compelling narrative and results in a captivating and powerful read that will keep you hooked right up until the end. I had an incredible time with Retribution and I can’t wait to see how this intense series continues in the future.