A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 1: Retribution 3d cover

A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 1: Retribution by John Schembra

A former soldier who becomes a San Francisco police homicide investigator after the war, Vince Torelli is dedicated, intelligent and highly principled–all skills that serve him well given the difficult, almost impossible murder investigations he’s assigned to handle that force him to the razor edge with equally resolute, extremely ruthless masterminds.


A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 1: Retribution 2 covers
Available in ebook and print

There’s a vigilante killer loose in San Francisco, and when the justice system fails, he doles out his own brand of justice.


Homicide Inspector Vince Torelli has handled some of the city’s worst murders, but this case has him baffled.  It seems no matter what he does, the killer manages to stay one step ahead of him, anticipating his every move. The false clues and trail the killer leaves keeps Vince chasing shadows as the body count rises. Will he discover the killer’s identity and will he survive long enough to bring him to justice?

GENRE:  Mystery/Thriller     Word count: 59, 406

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(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and some from Angus and Robertson)

Based on 8 Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Great San Francisco centric mystery

Schembra introduces the lead character San Francisco Homicide Inspector Vince Torelli in this series of easy to read, but tough to put down, mystery novels. If you know the SF Bay Area or not, this is a great introduction to a captivating series of uniquely well written novels that never disappoint. I love Schembra’s work and am looking forward to reading the next book following the cases of Inspector Torelli.

P. Grant January 4, 2023

4.0 out of 5 stars snappy local read

It's fun to follow Vince around the sites in San Francisco. I didn't always follow the plot but it was hard to put down. Evil, ambition, justice, and revenge mingle in an easy read with some police jargon.

Hannah L. February 8, 2019

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars

A good storyline. Quick and easy read.

KC December 24, 2016

5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and easy to read

Once I started reading the book I found it hard to stop and come back to it. I usually read late at night and found I was staying up later than usual because I would want to see what happens next. Well written and easy to read. Definitely keeps your attention.

Paul Padavana January 18, 2016

Continue the Series:

A Vince Torelli Novel: MP - A Novel of Vietnam continue the series A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 1: Retribution continue the series A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 2: Diplomatic Immunity continue the series A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 3: Blood Debt continue the series A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 4: The List continue the series A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 5: Southern Justness continue the series


Chapter 1


Retribution  n.  To repay; punishment for evil done; requital


He looked at his watch, noting it was 10:34 pm.  He rolled the naked body out the back of the van, closed the rear doors, and drove slowly through the alley, stopping at the crosswalk before turning onto 5th Street.  Looking to his left, he saw the two beat officers walking toward him at a leisurely pace.  He smiled to himself as he thought of what awaited them if they took their usual route down the alley.  He turned right on 5th Street, then right again on Folsom, driving at the speed limit, attracting no unwanted attention from the few other motorists.

He had no fear of being identified.  He was just an ordinary looking guy driving an ordinary looking van. He had left no clues in the alley that could lead to him and no one had seen him.  Besides, he had stopped perhaps thirty seconds, just long enough to dump the body, and the van he was driving would not be reported stolen from the Oakland airport long term parking lot for a couple of days.

He had spent the last several evenings watching the two cops walking their Mission District beat.  He had mapped and timed their route, finding they were creatures of habit, stopping for dinner at the same time each night, always at one of the small restaurants along Mission Street.  After resuming their foot patrol, they entered the alley between 10:30 and 10:36 p.m. each night.  He saw there was little vehicle traffic during the week and few people on the street.  He also knew there were no homeless people living in the alley and it was not a place the drug dealers chose to ply their trade.  It was the perfect place to put the body so it could be “found” quickly, exactly as he planned.

He drove to Pacific Heights and parked the van along the curb between two of the stately homes.  He walked the half block to his Lexus, taking off the latex gloves as he walked and dropping them in a sewer near his parked car. He glanced up and down the street as he unlocked the door, seeing no one and no lights on in the nearby homes.  He started the car and drove leisurely out of the area, unable to stop smiling.  He felt good, strong, revitalized.  He was filled with a sense of accomplishment, of relief that justice had been served. He could hardly wait to start planning the next event.  He turned the radio up and drove slowly home through the damp San Francisco night, singing to the oldies.

Chapter 2


The incessant ringing of the phone next to his bed dragged him from his slumber.  Without opening his eyes, he groped for the phone.  Bringing the receiver up to his ear, he mumbled, “This better be good.”

“C’mon, Vince.   Would I be calling the eminent homicide inspector Torelli at this hour if it wasn’t?  You’re gonna love this.”

“Shit,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at the clock as he recognized the night watch homicide inspector’s voice. He reached over and turned on the light next to the bed.  “Geez, Jimmy, it’s 12:45 in the morning.  What’s so important that you just had to call me?”

“You awake Vince?  You listening to me?”

“Yeah, Yeah, Jimmy.  So what’s the news?”

“A couple of beat cops found a body in an alley off 5th Street.  A young male, Hispanic, all sliced up.”

“So what’s all this got to do with me?”

“Easy, big fella.  The victim just happens to be a very bad boy himself.  Not the kinda guy too many people are gonna miss.  In fact, he just dodged a murder charge when the witness against him disappeared.”

“Jimmy, it’s too early in the morning for guessing games.  Just tell me who, OK?”

“Alright, alright!  You remember that little rat-faced punk, Julio Barajas?  Did that drive-by on Wallace Street a few months ago in which he missed his target and killed that three-year-old boy walking with his mother?  Well, somebody did him tonight, and from the looks of him, whoever it was must have been mighty pissed off.”

“Really?  Julio Barajas, eh?  Well, can’t say I’m sorry he got whacked.  If anybody deserved it, he did.”

“Yeah, for sure.  I guess somebody had a major grudge against him.  You know, it really pissed me off he beat that kid’s murder.  The only witness takes off and he walks.  I guess there is a God after all, eh Vince?”

“Yep.  Divine intervention, Jimmy.  You need any help?  Want me to come in?”

“Nah.  Go back to sleep.  I’ll see ya in the morning and fill you in on the details then.  Not much else to do tonight.  No witnesses, no obvious evidence, so get some rest.  See ya in a few hours.”

Vince hung up the phone and turned off the light.

“Do you have to go in?” his wife asked.

“No.  Jimmy just called to fill me in on a homicide I’ll be getting in the morning. Remember that case Mike and I worked last year, the drive by at Hunters Point where the three year old boy was killed?”

“Yes.  You got the shooter, didn’t you, when the passenger came forward?”

“That’s the one.  The guy beat the rap because the witness disappeared.  He walked last month.  He was the victim.  Mike is gonna dance a jig when he hears.   He really took this case personally.   Remember how pissed he was when the D.A. refused to file charges?”

“Yes.  I remember very well.  He came over here and was ranting and raving for a half hour!  Well, what goes around comes around, honey.”

“Yeah.  Now I gotta try to solve this one.  Pretty ironic, isn’t it.  First I try to prosecute the guy, now I gotta find out who killed him.”

“You better get some sleep, then.  Something tells me this one isn’t going to be easy.”

“Yeah.  G’nite, babe.”

“‘Nite, honey.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, snuggled down under the blankets and in less than a minute her breathing had become deep and regular.

Vince lay in bed listening to her breathe, thinking about what faced him in the morning.  He had difficulty getting back to sleep, as he often did when awakened in the middle of the night.  His thoughts turned to his past, his time in Vietnam and how he came to join the police department, and sleep would evade him sometimes for hours.

He remembered the attack on the airbase, hearing the explosions and feeling the shock and pain of his wounds, seeing the bodies of the enemy he killed.

With the encouragement of his father, he applied to the San Francisco Police Department.  He was scheduled to start the police academy in April of 1970.

Vince found the academy training easy enough.  He liked the camaraderie that developed between the recruits, and was happier than he had been for some time.  It reminded him of his time in the army and he became focused again, dwelling less and less on his time in Nam. The dreams became less frequent, and he was often able to sleep through the night.


A Vince Torelli Mystery, Book 1: Retribution print cover

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