The Fragrance of Death By Leslie Karst: Review/Giveaway/Travel Guest Post

Aug 20, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Food Fun, Kathleen Costa, Mysteryrat's Maze, Travel

by Kathleen Costa & Leslie Karst

This week we have a review of the latest Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst along with a fun guest post by Leslie about what it’s like to vacation in Santa Cruz where her main character lives. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the first book in the series Dying to Taste, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

The Fragrance of Death: A Sally Solari Mystery By Leslie Karst
Review by Kathleen Costa

“I’m a cook by trade…”
Sally Solari lives in the low-key beach community of Santa Cruz, California, amidst rich farmland producing bushels of fruits and vegetables perfect for any kitchen artist’s culinary creations. Sally grew up and honed her culinary skills in the family”s Italian seafood restaurant Solari’s, and recently inherited Gauguin’s restaurant from her Aunt Letta. She promoted the head chef, Javier, to co-owner, and now they’re experiencing excellent success. She is surrounded by a loving family, friends, an ex, employees turned friends, and Buster, the dog she also inherited. She has a friendly, maybe a “pre-dating,” relationship with Martin Vargas, the local detective for the SCPD, which comes in handy when her wrong place, wrong time misfortune puts her in the middle of a murder investigation. Sally can only hope being labeled, albeit in jest, as the “angel of death” will just go the way, but circumstances always seem to surprise!

The Fragrance of Death Earns 5/5 Artichoke Aioli…Deliciously Engaging Gem!
Sally has lost her sense of smell which is professionally tragic for a chef, especially now when she is competing in her first Artichoke Cook-off and she needs all her senses in working order. The competition allows for one assistant, so her sous chef Tomás will be more important than ever. She just might have a chance to win one of the coveted prizes, sans a working nose. One competitor, however, is her father who wants a win more than anything, but the winner two years running, Neil Lerici, will be hard to beat…unless, of course, he’s murdered ironically with an artichoke stuffed in his mouth. It seems someone didn’t like Neil or they didn’t like artichokes. Either way, it’s quite a message.

Buon appetito! Leslie Karst has whipped up a deliciously entertaining cozy mystery with a culinary competition, curious connections, and criminal conspiracies. The crime is revealed early making the investigation the main focus, a favorite scheme, and although officials often refuse amateur involvement, the Solari’s personal connection to the victim’s family is an asset the detective hopes to exploit…so, it’s a bit hypocritical to complain when she gets too involved. The journey traveled on many fascinating avenues of interest including squabbles among the victim’s family over money, property development, and several closeted secrets making it hard to decide whether family was responsible. I also kept a close eye on all the chefs and restauranteurs knowing egos can lead to murderous outbursts. There were horses, fishing, lots of food talk, visits to restaurants, and frogs? along with veiled interrogations, eavesdropping, a bit of stalking, and saying too much to the wrong people. Engaging fun!

Karst’s characters are well-developed and entertaining to follow. Sally was a lawyer before becoming a professional chef and restaurant owner, and although she no longer is an official attorney, it offers an additional layer to her personality and credibility to her snooping. The relationship between Sally and her father has an endearing father/daughter dynamic as well as a level of equality and competition in their professional careers. Her romantic designs have been conflicted giving readers a choice for whom they root: Team ex Eric or Team Detective Martin. Although decisions are made at the end, I don’t feel they are set in stone. Fun favorite!

My favorite words in cozies…Recipes Included! Each recipe includes fun insights and tips. Enjoy “Rogue” Negroni Cocktail, Artichoke Soup with Potatoes and Cream (Solari’s entry), Brussels Sprouts Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette (Javier style), Steak Diane (Martin’s “date” dinner), and Sally’s Decadent Blondies. Mangiamo!

Sally Solari Mystery
Dying for a Taste (2016)
A Measure of Murder (2017)
Death Al Fresco (2018)
Murder From Scratch (2019)
The Fragrance of Death (2022)

Be a Big Fan of Leslie Karst!
Facebook: Leslie Karst, author
Website: Leslie Karst, author

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years.

Tour the “Cruz”
Leslie Karst, author of The Fragrance of Death

A Vacation in Sally Solari’s Santa Cruz

When I set out to write the first of my Sally Solari mysteries, Dying for a Taste, it was a no-brainer that I had to set the series in my own city of Santa Cruz, California. I knew the mix of the town’s old-time Italian fishermen/restaurant owners and the newly-arrived techies and hipsters would make for a colorful cast of characters, and the stunning beauty of the area’s coastline and redwood forests, lively downtown, and famous roller coaster would provide the perfect backdrop to my new series. I’ve highlighted different aspects of my beloved town in each of the five Sally Solari books, and it occurs to me that they’d make for a fun tour guide for anyone visiting the area. So let the vacation begin!

Our Fabulous Restaurant Scene:

Stagnaro Bros. Restaurant

Check out the real-life restaurants that inspired the ones in my books! Solari’s, the restaurant owned by Sally’s father, was inspired by two places out on the historic Santa Cruz fisherman’s wharf: Gilda’s Family Restaurant and Stagnaro Bros. My favorite memories of Gilda’s are from back in the 1980s, when my housemates and I would hang out at their bar—which faces a plate glass window overlooking the water out toward the famed surf spot, Steamer Lane—and talk with the old Italian bartender as we played Sinatra on the jukebox and sipped Martinis. We felt so very grown up! As for Stagnaro Bros., I still love to go there for their delicious cracked Dungeness crab. And yes, they have linguine with clam sauce on the menu—just like Sally’s father prepares at Solari’s.

Gauguin, the French-Polynesian restaurant Sally inherits in Dying for a Taste, was inspired in large part by the real-life Oswald, which my wife and I love to now frequent, sitting at the bar and chatting with the friendly bartender, Josh, and having a meal of delectable fried chicken or cassoulet as we enjoy a Manhattan or Negroni.

The Beauty of West Cliff Drive, UCSC, and the North Coast:

View from West Cliff Drive

Sally’s a cyclist, and loves to bike around many of the county’s gorgeous areas, but these are all accessible by car or foot, as well. West Cliff Drive, a winding road that hugs the coast line, is one of the gems of our city. From the pedestrian pathway that runs between the road and the cliffs, you can gaze up at Brown Pelicans as the soar overhead and watch the fishing boats, surfers, kayakers, sea lions, sea otters, and even the occasional whales and dolphins as they gambol in the waters of the Monterey Bay.

Coyote on the UCSC bike path
(Yeah, it was kinda scary—but awesome, too!)

The University of California at Santa Cruz, our “City on the Hill,” sits in magnificent redwood forest, where you can not only admire these towering beauties, but also perhaps even catch a glimpse of one of the university’s famed mascots, the bright yellow banana slug.

And if you drive up the coast to the old whaling town of Davenport, you can not only look for Grey and Humpback whales, but you can dine at the Whale City Bakery, Sally’s favorite spot for a muffin or bear claw when she bikes up Highway 1.

Fun at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Wharf and Boardwalk:

The Santa Cruz Wharf is not merely home to the fabulous restaurants mentioned above, but it’s also got a terrific view of our famous Boardwalk with its roller coaster and Cocoanut Grove as well as of the entire Monterey Bay. And do go all the way to the end of the wharf, where there are viewing areas through which you can see the fat (and noisy!) sea lions who like to hang out on the support beams under the pier.

The Lively Pacific Avenue Shopping District:

Coastal redwoods up at UCSC

Pacific Avenue, just a block over from the fictional Gauguin restaurant, is the cultural heart of Santa Cruz. The sushi bars, book and surf shops, and clothing stores on this outdoor mall do brisk business, and the sidewalks are full of all sorts of entertaining characters: moms with strollers, accordion and cello players busking for spare change, hipsters hanging out in front of the vinyl record store, magicians doing card tricks, parents visiting their college kids, families down for the weekend to visit the Boardwalk. It’s a fantastic place to walk around and people-watch as well as get a bite to eat or go to a movie.

So what are you waiting for? Come visit Sally’s hometown, the fabulous Santa Cruz!

To enter to win a copy of the first book in the series Dying to Taste, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “taste,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 27, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win–it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode goes up next week.

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

Leslie Karst is the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari culinary mystery series. The daughter of a law professor and a potter, she waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for a “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, and she once more returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts. Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her time cooking, cycling, gardening, singing alto in her local community chorus, and, of course, writing. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. You can learn more on her website.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. I have read and enjoyed other books by Leslie Karst. I would also like to read the first book in the new series Dying to Taste.

  2. Death by artichoke! What a way to go! Count me in the drawing!

    • Sounds wonderful and I love a culinary mystery.

  3. Sounds like a good foodie read.
    thanks txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

  4. I encourage everyone to read this series – it is wonderful!
    Dying for a Taste is a great start to it.
    We used to eat at Stagnaro’s and the Boardwalk is great fun in the summer.
    Santa Cruz is a jewel.

  5. I have this book on my TBR list and I’m looking forward to starting the series.

  6. Culinary themed mysteries are always a good read, and since most have recipes in them, I enjoy those too.

  7. We have a winner!


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