****The Bitter Season


photo: David Pursehouse, creative commons license

By Tami Hoag – The Bitter Season is Hoag’s latest crime thriller featuring the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based team of police detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska. This time, the pair is split up, because Liska has joined a new Cold Case unit, hoping for more regular working hours that will let her spend time with her teenage sons.

The first case she’s assigned is the 25-year-old murder of a fellow detective, Ted Duffy, a star in the department’s sex crimes division, was shot to death in his back yard. The man’s family is less than enthusiastic about dredging up the details of the crime again. Repeated investigations over the years have plowed the same unpromising ground, unearthing nothing more than painful memories.

Meanwhile, Kovac has a new partner, newbie Michael Taylor, who is not only easy to look at, but actually knows a few useful things. An adolescence spent watching martial arts movies comes in handy when Kovac and Taylor are assigned to a brutal new murder case. Lucien Chamberlain, a University of Minnesota faculty member in the running for the chair of the East Asia studies department and his wealthy, socially connected, alcoholic wife Sondra have been viciously murdered in their home. They were slashed and stabbed with items from the professor’s collection of martial arts paraphernalia—a collection that is, the medical examiner’s investigator says, “a homicidal maniac’s wet dream.”

Out of the woodwork comes a parade of victims. Or are they suspects?

Despite working on separate cases, Kovac and Liska interact fairly often, and the banter between them and their teams’ other detectives is lively. They’re experts at bringing in a spot of erudition, too. “Shakespeare would have had a freaking field day with these people,” Kovac says, and another detective responds, “ʻThou hast spoken right, ʼtis true. The wheel is come full circle . . .’”

But are Kovac’s and Liska’s cases truly separate? Through fast-moving chapters written from alternating perspectives, you see these skilled detectives work their way through to the core of their respective cases, culminating in a surprising confrontation that demonstrates how skillfully Hoag has laid out her clues.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.