Whodunit? Culinary mystery author to sign books in Hilo

  • Courtesy photo Hilo author Leslie Karst will sign copies of her newest book, “Death al Fresco,” on Saturday at Basically Books in Hilo.

A Hilo author says she’s plotting Hawaii Island as the setting for a future mystery novel.

Leslie Karst’s newest book, “Death al Fresco,” her third Sally Solari culinary mystery, is set in Santa Cruz, Calif. She’s working on a fourth mystery set in California and is hoping her fifth will be set in Hilo.

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In her current book, readers watch main character Solari and her father deal with the death of a regular customer at the father’s restaurant. His body is found after he dines there.

“Witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, but his waitress swears the old man had only two beers with his meal,” a bio of the book reads. “And then the fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing an inebriated customer to walk home alone at night.”

The customer, a local fisherman named Gino, turns up dead. Solari’s dog, during a walk, shows her the body in seaweed along the Monterey Bay coast.

“All the old guys out on the wharf knew him,” Karst said during a telephone interview, “and so it’s kind of personal when he turns up dead.”

Karst, who studied culinary arts herself while a lawyer in real life, includes recipes in the book, blending its fictional restaurant life with real-world food for readers to try.

She enjoys researching backstories when a character’s experiences will play a role.

“What I love the best is the subcultures you find yourself dropped into,” she said.

She has learned about bells, art, advertising and many other topics.

“I like putting that stuff in my books,” she said.

Such knowledge helps the author build characters.

“For every character, you have to know their backstory, otherwise they don’t ring true,” Karst said. “But really, you don’t want to dump all that on the reader.”

Instead, as an author, she likes to “dribble it in slowly.”

Each of her mysteries, she said, relates to one of the senses.

Her first book was “Dying for a Taste.” Her second, “Measure of a Murder,” involves hearing. Vision is central to “Death al Fresco.”

Karst, in real life, is a lover of music, singing, gardening, cooking and cycling.

She and her wife, Robin, began living in Hilo after Karst’s parents, especially her mom, fell in love with lava — and, as a result, with Hawaii Island. They came to visit so often that they eventually settled in Hilo part time and continue to live in Santa Cruz the rest of the year.

For her Hilo-based book, she imagines Solari viewing fresh lava the way Karst and her parents used to, in the days before tourism became so popular.

“In the story, Sally’s out there with a local guy who’s a friend,” Karst said. “She walks down and sees a leg and she’s like, ‘What is that?’”

The lava is, at that moment, in the process of covering the leg — and from there the mystery will unfold.

When her fourth book gets to shelves, “my dearest hope is that No. 5 will be in Hilo” for a setting, Karst said.

Karst will be in Hilo for a book-signing at 3 p.m. Saturday at Basically Books, 1672 Kamehameha Ave. During the free event, she’ll discuss her Crooked Lane Books mystery, read a selection aloud and stay for questions — and snacks.

“That’s 3/3 at 3 p.m.,” Karst emphasized with a chuckle. “I’m gonna bring some goodies for people to nosh on.”

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For more about her writing, visit www.lesliekarstauthor.com.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.