I Read/I Wrote: Leslie Karst

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Snarky Cozy/Traditional

I READ: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

By the time I came upon Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi (published in 1982), I’d read plenty of mysteries, but they’d all been either Golden Age traditional/cozies written by women (e.g., Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers) or hard-boiled/noirs by men (e.g., Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler).

So Grafton’s debut came as an awakening. Here was a book in the traditional “weary PI” style, yet written by and featuring a woman. And as I read on, I realized she’d created a sort of hybrid between the hard-boiled and the cozy—the story of a private investigator with no strings attached (“My apartment is small…. I don’t have pets. I don’t have houseplants.”) yet with a big heart (“I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends.”). But most important, the novel was full of humor—a tad on the snarky side, yes, but who doesn’t love that?

Numerous authors have since emulated Grafton and, as a result, the line between “soft” and “hard” crime fiction is now far less rigid, allowing for a variety of new genres, such as what I like to call “snarky cozies” and “heartfelt noir.”

I WROTE: Dying for a Taste 

After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery. Managing the front of the house, however, is far from her dream of running her own kitchen.

Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is astounded to learn she has inherited the place. But there’s a problem: the Gauguin sous chef is the prime suspect in Letta’s murder. Convinced of his innocence and dependent on his expertise to keep restaurant afloat, Sally is determined to clear his name.

Delving into her enigmatic aunt’s past, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic and sustainable farming, Chez Panisse-style restaurants, and animal rights activists—not to mention buried family secrets. And as her list of suspects grows, Sally begins to realize that—as Gauguin’s new owner—she may be the next victim on the killer’s list.

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.

Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries, a culinary series (yes, snarky cozies) set in Santa Cruz, California. For more information, please visit lesliekarstauthor.com.


9 thoughts on “I Read/I Wrote: Leslie Karst”

  1. Thanks so much for visiting, Leslie! Very much enjoyed your post. Sue Grafton, what a writer. And Kinsey, what a sleuth! Also, I love your books and am *eagerly* awaiting the next adventures of Sally Solari.

    ps: this is wonderful: “snarky cozies” and “heartfelt noir.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ms. Karst, Thanks so much for doing this. I starting reading Sue Grafton in 1982 and absolutely fell in love with her style because I’m a big detective fiction fan. My sister and I always make jokes about her one black dress and her neighbor who worked on crossword puzzles. Kinsey Milhone is certainly a favorite of mine. Sue Grafton will be missed. Yet, I am so happy to be introduced to your Sally Solari series. Do you include recipes? How long did it take you to write your first book and what made you choose a culinary theme? I love the backdrop of Santa Cruz. I spent a summer at the Univ of CA—what a great place for restaurants, walking on the beach, and wooded areas to bury dead bodies. Any significance to the name Sally Solari? Do you schedule yourself to write a certain amount everyday?

    Kind Regards,
    Stephanie O’Brien

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would love to read a book that blends “hard” and “soft” because distinguishing between the two seems to put stereotypes on detectives based on their gender, which we are moving away form as a society. Also, your book sounds really cool. I’m interested in anything involving animal rights activism!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hello, Ms Karst. I would love to read your book. How did you come up with the restaurant settings? Are there some autobiographical elements to it as well? I love the front cover of your book-not to mention the title.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for all the comments and questions! Okay, here goes with some answers:

    Yes, I include recipes (just finished testing the ones for Sally Solari number 4, always a popular time in my household.)

    It took over a year to write the first draft of the first in the series, but then another two to revise and tweak it based on comments from friends and from rejection letters from agents.

    The restaurant setting/culinary theme was a no-brainer for me, because I’ve been obsessed with food ever since I was a kid (I went back to school while working as a lawyer to get an AS degree in culinary arts), and having lived in Santa Cruz since 1974, one of the objects of the series was to try to make the town almost like another character. I consider the series bit of a love letter to Santa Cruz.

    Sally Solari’s name does have a backstory. Doing research on the Italian families who emigrated here from Liguria, Italy over 100 years ago, I saw that Solari was a common Ligurian name. And I loved how it gave the feeling of Sally being on her own as she solves crimes (think about it: Napoleon Solo from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Han Solo? Those names aren’t an accident.) And then Sally because she’s named after her grandfather Salvatore, and then there’s that alliteration thing, as well…

    When I have a deadline, I do try to write for several hours every day–usually in the morning, as that’s when I’m most alert (coffee helps!)

    Yes, there are definitely autobiographical elements to the story: I, like Sally, am an ex-lawyer who loves food, dogs, cycling, and single-barrel bourbons. But she’s way more brave than I. (I’d make for a lousy sleuth in a mystery novel.)

    Thanks for all your encouraging comments!

    Liked by 2 people

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