The Bitter Season Summary

Tami Hoag

The Bitter Season

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The Bitter Season Summary

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The fifth novel in the Kovac & Liska series, The Bitter Season (2016) is a mystery crime thriller written by New York Times best-selling author Tami Hoag. Set in Minneapolis during wintertime, the story follows homicide detective Sam Kovac and his longtime partner Nikki Liska, who have finally gone separate professional ways. When a college professor is brutally murdered by a home invader, Kovac investigates the crime with his new partner, Michael Taylor. As Nikki relocates to join a cold-case unit, she becomes embroiled in a twenty-five-year-old murder mystery that ends up connected to Kovac’s own investigation. The Bitter Season has been called “a dark, gritty thriller” by Booklist, a “tense psychological thriller” by Kirkus Reviews, and “riveting, enthralling, suspenseful, and fast-paced” by Manhattan Book Review.

Bitter cold has descended on Minneapolis. Diminutive detective Nikki Liska wants to spend more time with her two teenage sons, Kyle and RJ, so she’s decided to stop working as a homicide detective. She’s parted from her longtime partner, Detective Sam Kovac, in order to work a desk job at a cold-case unit. But Nikki is restless in her new job; she finds the paperwork boring and misses the adrenaline rush of tracking down murderers.

The first file Nikki comes across is a twenty-five-year-old cold case involving the murder of Ted Duffy, a family man, community leader, and decorated sex crimes detective who was shot in his backyard. Nikki presses Duffy’s family for information, but they are reluctant to relive the horrifying event. She’s stonewalled by Duffy’s family and friends at every turn, which irritates her and stunts the investigation. Nikki meets Duffy’s widow, Barbie, who later married Duffy’s twin brother. When Barbie is unwilling to rehash the details of Duffy’s death, Nikki has no leads to go on.

Meanwhile, Kovac has taken on a sensational double-homicide that has gained national media attention. An East Asian studies professor named Lucien Chamberlain and his wealthy wife, Sondra, have been brutally slaughtered with a ceremonial Japanese samurai sword and nunchucks taken from Lucien’s antique collection. Since Chamberlain was a cruel, misogynistic egomaniac, there’s no shortage of suspects. Even Chamberlain’s grown children detest him and blame him for their countless afflictions. Son Charlie Chamberlain can’t cope with his obsessive-compulsive disorder or his father’s unrealistic expectations. Daughter Diana Chamberlain suffers manic depression and nymphomania. As Kovac interrogates countless suspects, he can’t help but think about how much he misses Nikki and wonder how much farther in the case he would be with her at his side. Taking Nikki’s place is Michael Taylor, a handsome rookie detective who proves to be in over his head.

As the two cases progress, it becomes clear that Kovac and Nikki are investigating two crimes that are inextricably linked. Nikki discovers that Duffy has a long-lost foster child named Evi Burke, who was returned to the adoption agency after Duffy’s death and currently works as a social worker. Kovac discovers that Diana was having an affair with Ken Sato, one of Chamberlain’s rivals in the Asian studies department. Other suspects Nikki questions include a shady handyman working on the Chamberlain household, as well as librarian Jennifer Duffy, Duffy’s soft and sensitive daughter who wants nothing to do with her father’s murder. As for Kovac, he interrogates Duffy’s bigoted neighbor, Donald Nilsen, who seethes with resentment over the case being reopened. It turns out Ted Duffy sexually molested Evi Burke when she was sixteen, impregnating her in the process. As an act of vengeance, Evi and her boyfriend Jeremy Nilsen conspired to kill Ted Duffy.

In another twisty coincidence, it turns out that Evi is not only Ted Duffy’s foster child, but also Charlie Chamberlain’s biological mother. Evi grew up, gave birth to Charlie, then put him up for adoption. When Charlie discovered this, he vowed to not only exact revenge on the abusive Lucien Chamberlain, but to “close the circle” brought about by Evi all those years before. Charlie murdered his sister, Diana, by eviscerating her body and cutting her head off. Charlie also murdered Ken Sato, stuffing his decapitated head in the trunk of his car next to Diana’s corpse.

Charlie violently confronts Evi at her house, threatening her five-year-old daughter, Mia, by placing the blade of the samurai sword to the little girl’s throat. Charlie also attacks Evi’s husband, Eric, slashing his face and cutting out one of his eyeballs. Charlie then admits that he isn’t there to kill Evi or Mia, but to have Evi kill him instead. “She brought him into the world, she would take him out.” Charlie is ultimately confronted by Nikki at Evi’s house. Nikki storms in just as Charlie is about to slit Mia’s throat in front of Evi’s eyes, and proceeds to get into a tussle with Charlie. After Nikki breaks Charlie’s nose with her knee, Charlie turns the knife on himself and plunges the blade into his stomach. Charlie bleeds out as Kovac arrives at the scene and jokingly consoles Nikki. Both cases are successfully closed.

Tami Hoag is the American author of several series, including Oak Knoll, Elena Estes, Deer Lake, Doucet, Hennessey, Quaid Horses, and the Rainbow Chasers. She has also written numerous standalone novels, including Cold Cold Heart, Kill the Messenger, Dark Paradise, The Last White Knight, Still Waters, Taken by Storm, Heart of Dixie, Sarah’s Sin, Mismatch, and McKnight in Shining Armor. Hoag has had thirteen consecutive New York Times best sellers. The Bitter Season is preceded by Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Prior Bad Acts, The 1st Victim, and The 9th Girl.