We’re pleased to welcome Leslie Karst to the blog. Also, Crooked Lane is giving away one copy of Leslie’s book, A Measure of Murder. Comment below to enter! (Edited: Sorry all, since the book is coming from the publisher, it will not be signed. My mistake.)
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day would have to be a warm one in summer. I’d linger in my sunny back yard over a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper and working on the crossword puzzle. Then I’d write for several hours and—since this is a perfect day—be tickled pink by the cleverness of what I’d composed. After a lunch of crunchy baguette, Camembert cheese, avocado, and pear, I’d take a walk with my Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, California (where I live) and gaze at the sparkling waves and the brown pelicans as they soar up the coastline.
Back home, my wife Robin and I would spend cocktail hour in the front yard and chat with the passing neighbors, and then retire indoors for a dinner of steak-frites with Béarnaise sauce and a crisp green salad. We’d finish the evening with a good movie on Netflix—something like The Thin Man or Annie Hall. If I weren’t too sleepy, I’d read a good mystery in bed until finally turning out the light.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Yellow. I love yellow. I have more yellow shirts than any other color, and two pairs of Converse high tops in different shades of yellow. I even have a pair of yellow shorts. But I wouldn’t want my house decorated in that hue. That would be too much yellow even for me.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Dorothy L. Sayers got me started reading mysteries, and ultimately inspired me to try my hand at writing them myself. If I could come anywhere close to matching her brilliance, I’d be thrilled beyond measure.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Never. I’m one of those people who needs peace and quiet to write, as I’m easily distracted.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Since my latest book, A Measure of Murder, involves the Mozart Requiem (as well as restaurants and food, of course!), I’d have to say the Mozartkugel, a confection from Salzburg made of pistachio marzipan and nougat, dipped in dark chocolate, and wrapped in foil bearing a picture of the composer. Or perhaps the cepezzoli di Venere (nipples of Venus), which feature so suggestively in the wonderful movie about Mozart, Amadeus (they’re made of white chocolate, however, which may not count as the real thing).
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Although my Sally Solari mysteries focuses on food, cooking, and restaurants, there’s a secondary theme to each of the books in the series: one of the human senses. Dying for a Taste concerns (duh) the sense of taste, and A Measure of Murder focuses on the sense of hearing—more specifically, music.
Music has long been one of my passions. I studied clarinet as a youngster, later fronted and wrote the songs for two different bands, and for the past seventeen years have sung alto in my local community chorus. So when it came time to plot the story about the sense of hearing, there was no question but that it should focus on music.
One of my favorite compositions is the sublime Mozart Requiem. But in addition, the piece is perfect for a mystery novel, as the Requiem itself is surrounded by secrets and mystery: who commissioned it, who finished it after Mozart died, which parts were composed by whom. So, truly, how could I resist?
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
A theme that arises over and again in the Sally Solari series is the conflict between cultures in Santa Cruz, particularly those of the old-timers and the newcomers. For example, Sally’s family is descended from one of the original Italian fishermen who emigrated to Santa Cruz in the late 1800s, but she is also very much aligned with the folks who came to town after the university opened there in the mid-1960s. This culture clash is especially acute with respect to the traditional, old-school eateries such as that of Sally’s family (Solari’s) vs. the trendy, “food revolution” restaurants like the one inherited by Sally from her murdered aunt (Gauguin).
Tell us about your main character.
Sally is not yet forty and already experiencing erratic hormones and hot flashes. As a result, she can tend towards over-the-top emotions and sarcasm (though cycling and bourbon help). But she’s also smart, stubborn, and resolute, and rarely takes no for an answer. So when Sally sets her mind on tracking down a murderer, you do not want to be the one who gets in her way.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
This was the hardest question of the bunch, for some reason. But I’m going to go with these three (perhaps merely wishful thinking on my part):
Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton)
Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars)
Mary Richards (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Hosting a fabulous dinner party is an art—not just of selecting the appropriate food and wine, but also selecting a group of guests who will get along, talk enough (but not too much), and be entertaining. So, since I have no real way of knowing the personalities of mystery writers long-dead, I’m going to pick people I am sure would make for a terrific party:
Sue Grafton (because she’s a hoot and a half and will absolutely keep the conversation flying); Catriona McPherson (for the same reasons);
James W. Ziskin (because he likes good Scotch and I know, having spent time in his company, that he’ll be good fun);
Ellen Byron (because Ellen—my fellow Crooked Lane author and buddy—is never, ever boring);
Dana Stabenow (because I’ve seen her on a few panels and she’s a pistol and funny as hell); and
Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib, who loves food as much as I do and with whom I as yet have only a cyber-relationship, so we could finally meet in person!).
What do you think, y’all? Wanna come to dinner? (And Jim, I hope you’re okay with being the only guy.)
What’s next for you?
I’m almost finished with the first draft of book three in the Sally Solari series, tentatively entitled Death al Fresco (this will be the sense of vision). Sally has decided she should learn more about her restaurant’s namesake, and is therefore reading a biography of Paul Gauguin. Inspired by his eye-popping canvases, she convinces her best pal/ex-boyfriend Eric to enroll with her in a plein air (outdoor) painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when Sally’s dog, Buster, sniffs out a body entangled in a pile of kelp on the beach.
This book focuses on the Italian fishing community in Santa Cruz, including the food and cooking favored by the “original sixty families” who emigrated there from Liguria, Italy. It should be released in the spring of 2018.
A Measure of Murder, book two in the Sally Solari culinary mystery series, released February 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books. (Includes recipes!)
Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, she joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.
Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin, set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?
“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition…polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.” Publishers Weekly starred review
The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her online at http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ and at https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/