Dying for a Taste: A Sally Solari Mystery

Dying for a Taste: A Sally Solari Mystery

by Leslie Karst


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683310228
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Series: A Sally Solari Mystery
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 377,059
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Leslie Karst has degrees in English literature, law, and culinary arts. After graduating from Stanford Law School, she worked for twenty years as a research and appellate attorney before retiring. Karst now spends her time cooking, gardening, cycling, singing alto in the local community chorus, and of course writing. She and her wife, Robin, and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy, split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawaii.

Read an Excerpt


At least twice a week, I have customers tell me how lucky I must feel, having been born into this family. Bellies tight from their lunches of clam chowder and osso buco , they’ll gesture out Solari’s picture window at the flocks of brown pelicans soaring up the coast, wing tips just grazing the waves.

“I can’t even imagine a better place to work than this,” they’ll exclaim, and pull out their phones to take shots of the fishing boats bobbing up and down in the Monterey Bay.

They truly have no idea.

But then again, they’ve never had to talk down a rabid waitress on the verge of walloping a busboy over the head with a serving tray, which happened to be the delightful task occupying me at our family’s restaurant this Monday lunch shift.

Giulia, a hefty gal in a black skirt and form-fitting white blouse, had cornered Sean in the alcove separating the wait station from the now-busy dining room. Animated voices rose above the clatter of cutlery on ceramic dishes, and the pungent aroma of garlic and fried fish hung in the air.

“Put that down this instant,” I said to Giulia, placing myself strategically between her and the cowering busboy, “and tell me what in God’s name is going on here.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” The teenager emerged from behind a rack of soup bowls and stuck out a chin sporting the beginnings of a fuzzy, blond beard. “The man just stood up all of a sudden and threw his arm out, right as I came up to his table.”

“Sean managed to knock three orders of cannoli onto the guy at table nine,” Giulia retorted, “smearing cream all down the front of his fancy suit. He’s been in before and was a huge tipper. That sure won’t happen today.” She glared at the busboy, and he backed up a step. “What the hell were you doing bringing out the dessert anyway?”

“Mario told me to. He said it had been sitting at the window for like ten minutes, and he wanted it out of the way.” There was a hint of triumph on the boy’s face: one point for his side.

Giulia knew she’d been bested, and her eyes blazed. Raising the tray once more, she started forward, but I blocked her way with my tall, lanky frame.

“Hold your horses, sister. Is the table still here?” She nodded. “Right,” I said. “We’re all three going out there right now to make a formal apology. How much did they order?”

“Three specials is all. And the desserts. Which of course never made it to the table,” Giulia added with another glare in Sean’s direction. “No bar tab.”

“Good. So you, Giulia, are going to inform the man that the entire meal is on the house and that we’ll pay for the dry cleaning for his suit as well. That should appease him a bit. Okay, let’s march.”

I followed Giulia and Sean into the dining room and then immediately ducked back into the alcove. But it was too late; he’d already spotted me.

“Why, Ms. Solari,” a deep voice boomed across the room. “Fancy meeting you here!” I slunk back in and crossed to his table, the table: number nine. It was Jack Saroyan, senior partner of Saroyan, Davies & Lang, one of the biggest law firms in Santa Cruz, California.

And my boss from a past life.

“Uh, hi, Jack,” I said, managing a weak smile. “So sorry about all this.” I nodded at the wet splotches down the front of his pale-gray suit. “Do let me know what the dry cleaning bill is, and we’ll cover it for you.”

I glanced at Giulia, who was clearly taken aback by the fact that I knew the gentleman. But she recovered quickly and launched into her spiel about comping the meal. Ever the suave politician type, Jack just laughed it off and assured us all that his clothes would be fine.

After Giulia and Sean had gone back to their duties, Jack introduced me to his tablemates: a pair of expert witnesses he’d hired for a land-subsidence case. “Sally used to be one of our very best associate attorneys,” he informed the two men. “But sadly she left us a few years ago to return to the family business.” He turned back to me. “You know,” he said with a glance down his front and a wink, “perhaps managing waitstaff isn’t the vocation you were meant for after all. You might want to consider coming back to work for us.”


Right , I thought as I headed for the tiny office behind the dry storage room that I shared with my dad. Like that’ll be happening anytime soon. No matter how much I might bitch about being back at Solari’s, the thought of returning to the grind of pumping out endless billable hours was far worse.

I sank into the folding chair and reached across the metal desk for a brown paper bag sitting atop a stack of time sheets. My lunch—a ham and Swiss on Jewish rye with lots of mayo and Dijon mustard—was inside. Yes, I did work at a restaurant, but after a while, you get tired of fried zucchini and spaghetti carbonara every single day. It was past noon, and I’d had no breakfast. I unwrapped the sandwich and took a large bite just as my phone went off: the Hawaii Five-0 theme song, Eric’s ringtone.

“Sal, thank God I got you.”

“This better be good,” I said, mouth full. “I’m in the middle of lunch, and I have not had a great morning.”

“Oh, Sally...” There was a pause and labored breathing on the other end of the line.

“What?” I finished chewing and sat up. Eric’s my ex-boyfriend, so I know the guy pretty darn well. It wasn’t like him to be short on words.

“It’s your Aunt Letta.” Another pause. “She’s dead.”


“I’m down here at her restaurant. That’s where it happened.”

“What? A heart attack or something?”

There were loud voices in the background. Eric spoke briefly to someone else—I couldn’t make out the words—and then came back on the line. “She was stabbed, Sally. It looks like a murder.”

“Oh my God.” I jumped up out of my chair and just missed knocking over a mug of yesterday’s coffee.

“That’s why I’m here. One of the cops on the scene is a friend of mine, and when he realized who the victim was, he gave me a call.”

“Oh my God,” I said again, sliding back into my chair and slumping over the desk. “Does my dad know?”

“Not yet. You’re the first person I’ve told.”

“I better get down there with you.”

“I dunno, Sal; it’s pretty...grisly. And they’re not going to let you in anyway. It’s a crime scene. They even kicked me out of the building, and I’m a DA.”

“I don’t care. I’m coming.” I shut off the phone and took a few deep breaths, trying to slow my rapid heartbeat. Then I ran out into the hall and grabbed the first person I saw— Emilio, one of the line cooks—by the arm. “Where’s my dad?” I shouted.

“He ran out for some polenta. They shorted our delivery yesterday, and we don’t have enough for tonight. What’s the big deal?”

“Tell ya later.” Retrieving my purse from the office, I hurried outside to my beat-up, green Accord, slammed the door, and backed up, nearly colliding with a Stagnaro Bros. seafood delivery truck in the process. The driver hurled some choice words in my direction and then continued on.

Okay, girl, calm down. I waited a moment, made sure no one was in my rearview mirror, and then finished backing out into the road—more cautiously this time.

As I made my way down the length of the wharf, I tried to wrap my mind around what Eric had told me: Aunt Letta’s life, which had always seemed so exotic and glamorous to me, was over. Finished. Gunning the accelerator, I cruised through the roundabout and headed downtown. No, it simply didn’t make any sense.

In order to make a left off of Pacific Avenue, I had to wait while a gaggle of pedestrians streamed through the crosswalk. This street, which bisects the Eastside and Westside of Santa Cruz from the ocean almost to the hills, is lined with shops, movie theaters, and restaurants and is a magnet for all aspects of our community: university students, moms with strollers, aging hippies, suit-clad professionals, and grizzled men with backpacks and bedrolls.

I finally managed to dart across the road between a pair of adolescent skate punks and an elderly gentleman walking an even more elderly looking chocolate lab and then cut over to Cedar Street, turned left, and drove past my aunt’s restaurant, Gauguin. A half-dozen squad cars occupied all the spots in front of the place, but I was able to find parking around the corner on a street lined with brightly painted Victorian homes and trees just beginning to leaf out.

Buttoning up my blazer to ward off the brisk April wind, I walked down the sidewalk with a growing sense of dread. It was easy enough to act all brave and cavalier with Eric on the phone, but was I really up for this?

I mean, even though my dad’s sister had left town when I was only a kid, we’d actually ended up fairly close. Violetta, who’d always been known simply as Letta, had returned to Santa Cruz to open Gauguin right when I was starting law school and had been my strongest ally when my dad was so furious about my leaving Solari’s—just as she had done, turning her back on the family business, years earlier.

Once back in her hometown, Letta did her best to keep an emotional distance from the rest of the family, rarely even making it to my grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner—the only one of us who didn’t religiously attend Nonna’s weekly ritual. But the two of us had forged a special bond: that of outcast sister and daughter. And even after I’d caved and quit practicing law to return to the family restaurant, she’d still supported me.

But now she was gone.

As I rounded the corner, I looked up to see a swarm of gawkers in front of the restaurant being restrained behind yellow crime tape, and suppressed a shudder. Even if she hadn’t been my aunt, the prospect of seeing the actual scene where anyone had been stabbed to death would have been exceedingly unsettling.

Well, I wasn’t going to turn back now. Pushing my way through the crowd, I tried to get the attention of the policewoman standing guard at Gauguin’s intricately carved front door. It was made of koa (Letta had made sure everyone knew this), and as I waited for the cop to shoo off two young men trying to peer through the restaurant window, I studied its Polynesian designs. The swirls and geometric shapes had always reminded me of exotic tattoos, but carved into reddish-brown wood rather than inked into flesh.

I was about to explain who I was to the policewoman when Eric came striding up from behind. “She’s with me,” he said and, gripping me by the arm, steered me under the crime tape and around the walkway to the side of the restaurant. As always when I was with Eric, I found myself immediately tending to slouch, ever conscious of the several inches in height I had over him, even in flats.

We stopped near the side door. Letta's '57 Thunderbird was parked next to the building, its creamy yellow paint job glaring in the midday sun. Eric unbuttoned his suit jacket and leaned his wiry frame against the stucco wall. Once again, my brain focused on the minutiae—how his pale-blond hair and starched, white shirt took on hues of the bright-orange wall and the pale-violet trim around the windows. "Mango" and "orchid," Letta had called the colors. Was this some kind of defense my mind was constructing, obsessing over the details to avoid having to concentrate on the big picture?

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Dying for a Taste: A Sally Solari Mystery 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
InspirationalAngel531 More than 1 year ago
Title: Dying for a Taste - Sally Solari Mystery Book 1 Author: Leslie Karst Published: 4-12-2016 Publisher: Crooked Lane Books Pages: 306 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense Sub Genre: Culinary Mystery; Women Sleuths; Cozy Mystery ISBN: 13: 9781629535975 ASIN: B01CSWPE5I Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley Rating: 4.5 Stars I received a copy of "Dying for a Taste" from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Description From the Publisher: After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery in Santa Cruz, California. But managing the front of the house is far from her dream job. Then in a sudden twist her Aunt Letta is found murdered in her own restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place running. But when her sous chef is accused of the crime, and she finds herself suddenly short-staffed, Sally must delve into the world of sustainable farming—not to mention a few family secrets--to help him clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out. Leslie Karst serves a platter of intrigue in her stirring and satisfying debut Dying for a Taste, which is sure to become a new favorite of food mystery fans. My Review: I have been looking for an author and new series to replace Diane Mott Davidson's Goldilocks Catering Mysteries and I do believe I have finally found them. Leslie Karst and her Sally Solari Mysteries are just as captivating with strong characters and an intricate plot that keep you on your toes. Leslie uses her books to bring awareness to her readers about modern day issues without taking sides. The book moves at a quick pace so that the reader stays entertained. There are some tasty recipes included to tempt your taste buds as well. If you love a good culinary cozy then be sure to pick up a copy of Leslie Karst's "Dying for a Taste". You may soon find yourself enthralled with the busy life of Sally Solari too. My rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
You’ll be Dying for the Sequel I really do wish I had more time to read. (You know, without giving up anything else in my life, of course.) I’ve been wanting to read Dying for a Taste since I first heard about it when it came out this spring, but I just finally got a chance to read it. This first in a series introduces us to Sally Solari, a former lawyer who is helping run her family’s restaurant in Santa Cruz, California. Her aunt Letta runs another restaurant in town, and Sally and Letta have become close in recent years. Sally is shocked when her friend Eric in the DA’s office calls one morning to let her know that Letta has been found murdered in the kitchen of her restaurant. The evidence points to Letta’s sous chef, Javier. But after all Letta had done for Javier, would he really murder Letta? Sally doesn’t think so, and she begins to dig into Letta’s life to find out what really happened. It turns out Letta had some secrets and some enemies. But what lead to Letta’s death? While the book opens with Sally finding out about Letta’s murder, it did feel like things were a little slow overall in the beginning as Sally deals with her family and the funeral. On the other hand, this is true to life, and a part of life that is often glossed over in the mysteries I read. And the author does use the time to introduce us to some of the suspects and set up clues and red herrings that Sally will be following. I also appreciated the balance as Sally deals with her grief. It was enough to help flesh her out for us, but not enough to be sad or depressing. Once Sally does start to fully investigate, the pace really picks up. There are enough clues and red herrings to keep us confused until we reach the climax. I enjoyed the creativity of the climax as well. The characters are good. They are interesting enough to make us care about the story, but they do have a little room to grow, something I’m sure that will come as the series progresses. This is just the debut after all. Sally was definitely the most developed series character, which makes sense because she is our main character and narrator. We got to know several others almost as well, but there are some other supporting players I hope will be fleshed out as the series progresses. The suspects were definitely all solid characters, which always makes finding the villain more of a challenge. This book does have a smattering of foul language in it. It’s just a handful scattered thoughtout the book, but keep that in mind as you sit down to read. Over the course of the book, we do get into a couple of issues that made me start to cringe. I was expecting we might get lectured on them, but the author kept a fairly even hand. We know her point of view, but we do see the nuances. I really appreciated that since it avoided the stereotypes I was expecting and kept the story more entertaining. Plus, I hate being lectured in my fiction even if I agree with the point of view. Of course, we get some recipes at the end of the book. They are a step above the recipes normally featured in the back of culinary cozies, and they sound delicious. We get things such as endive and leek gratin, linguine with clam sauce, and pork chops with apricot brandy sauce. Sally Solari is another great sleuth, and if you’ve missed her debut, be sure to track down Dying for a Taste. I’m looking forward to seeing where her next adventure takes her.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Dollycas’s Thoughts Sally Solari is still reeling from her mom’s death when her Aunt Letta is murdered. Letta is Sally’s father’s younger sister and they had a falling out years ago. He runs an old-style Italian restaurant where she runs an eatery serving more lighter farm fresh dishes. Now Sally is caught in the middle because her aunt left the restaurant to her in her will. When one of the chefs is taken into custody for the murder, Sally has no choice but to try to step into her aunt’s shoes. She also believes the chef is being framed and needs to prove it. So Sally is now working the front of the house for her dad, running the whole restaurant for her aunt and trying to catch a killer. Hang on tight, this story goes at a good clip!! Cozy foodie lovers rejoice, this is a new mystery you can take a big bite of! Sally Solaris is one smart cookie. She has a lot on her plate but she juggles everything that is thrown at her. Coming home to help her dad after her mother passed away and leaving her job as a lawyer behind was a huge step. Her dad is set in his ways and believes woman don’t belong in his kitchen so she takes her mom’s spot in the dining room. She had a relationship with her aunt and is taking her death hard but she needs to keep her restaurant going. Faced with losing a chef she was counting on, she steps up her game to even help in the kitchen herself. Plus she is traveling all over the area investigating trying to figure out who killed her aunt and why. I was engaged by this woman immediately. Ms. Karst dishes up a great mystery too with plenty of red herrings to keep both Sally and us readers fishing for answers. I was pretty proud of myself because I thought I had it all figured out until those last clues sent me in a different direction. One I had discarded early on. She had me, hook, line, and sinker. This debut was quite tasty! Are you Dying for A Taste?