Guest: Nancy Herriman

Edith here, on vacation in DC but delighted to welcome my fellow historical novelist Nancy Herriman to the blog. Nancy has several mysteries in her A Mystery of Old San Francisco series, which I love, but this is a new book in a new era – seventeenth century – in a new series, and I can’t wait to read it (it arrived on my Kindle three days ago…)! Take it away, Nancy.

Thanks to the Wickeds for having me on their blog again. It’s always an honor. And I’ll be giving away a copy of Searcher of the Dead to one of the commenters on this post.

CLB_searcherforthedead_final_3 copyFirst off, here’s a bit about Book 1 in my newest series:

Herbalist Bess Ellyott flees London after her husband is murdered, but the peace she has found in the quiet Wiltshire countryside is short-lived. Her brother-in-law, a prosperous merchant, is himself found dead—dangling from a tree, a rope about his neck. A supposed suicide. Clues suggest otherwise to Bess. Was he the victim of a rival wool merchant, jealous of her brother-in-law’s success? Or worse, had he become entangled in traitorous schemes to undermine the Church of England? 

Bess is uncertain that she can trust the town constable to help her find the truth. Christopher Harwoode will cross members of his own family to uncover the killer…whose next target may very well be Queen Elizabeth I herself.

In my writing, I have two passions. One is setting my books in historical times. I have tried numerous times to write a contemporary novel and, so far, failed. I vow to keep trying, though! The other is an interest in how medicine is practiced, especially in the past. This is no surprise to anyone who has ever read one of my books. My heroines, my sleuths are always healers of some sort. In my San Francisco series, Celia Davies is a nurse. In my new Bess Ellyott books, which are set in Tudor England, my sleuth is an herbalist.

I’m far from alone in combining these two interests in a mystery novel. In the Father Cadfael books, which are set in Medieval England, the clever monk is also an herbalist. Ruth Downie’s Medicus series employs a doctor as sleuth in ancient Roman-occupied Britain. And, of course, we have Edith Maxwell’s wonderful Quaker Midwife mysteries! Just to name a few.

Medical professionals make good sleuths, in my opinion. I suppose I’d better have that opinion, as I make such regular use of them! Trained to observe symptoms of disease, they’re also well-equipped to identify when a death might be suspicious. Furthermore, my historical heroines exist in times and places that limited what they, as women, could do. Being an herbalist or a midwife or a nurse provides more opportunities than what other women of their worlds might possess.

My greatest joy, though, is what I learn while I’m researching my novels. For instance, medieval practitioners attempted more surgeries than I’d ever imagined (and without anesthesia, of course). I pity their desperate patients. Also, the ancient belief in the four humors—blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm—dictated what cures to use, and that balancing ‘hot/cold’ and ‘dry/wet’ was the solution to every problem. It’s an idea reflected in the saying, which dates to the 1570s, that people should ‘feed a cold, starve a fever.’

Frau mit Kind in einem Garten bei der Anisernte.

Woman and child harvesting anise. Photo credit to Austrian National Library

For my latest series, I’ve been studying old herbals so I can write accurately about the sorts of cures Bess Ellyott would have made. Some, such as those that used honey, might have actually worked (pure honey is a natural antiseptic). A much better recommendation than to slap cow or sheep dung on a wound. Well into the late 19th-century it was still easy to buy quack remedies, and nearly every one sold by the corner apothecary contained opiates. You might not get better, but you might be so sedated you wouldn’t notice.

As for the grossest research I’ve done, well, that involved reading up on the process of decay in corpses. Not something that should be done while eating. There was also the time I reviewed articles and photographs to be able to describe what happens to a body after a fall from a great height. The stuff you can find on the internet. Amazing. And icky.

In the end, I’m grateful to be able to tell the stories of healers, especially the women who worked (and sometimes continue to work) in the shadows of their male counterparts. Brave and intriguing women. Who also make excellent sleuths.

NancyHerrimanPhotoReaders: it’s your turn. Please share something that interests or fascinates you.

Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the RWA Daphne du Maurier award, and Publishers Weekly calls the first in her Bess Ellyott mysteries, Searcher of the Dead, “satisfying” and “fascinating,” and says “readers who relish details of daily life in a Tudor town…will enjoy this story.” When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in Central Ohio. You can learn more at

Welcome Guest — Lillian Bell

The winner of Lillian’s book is Kimberly. Watch for an email from her!

I’m so happy to introduce Lillian Bell to the Wicked family! I first met Lillian at Left Coast Crime when we were on a panel together. Her big smile and sense of humor won me over immediately. A Grave Issue is the first book in the new Funeral Parlor Mystery series from Crooked Lane Books. Here’s a little bit about her book:

After an on-air gaffe goes viral and jeopardizes her career, journalist Desiree Turner retreats home to Verbena, California for some peace and quiet. She begins working one of the quietest jobs around: presiding over funerals for her great-grandfather’s funeral parlor. But the action seems to follow her as a fistfight breaks out between neighbors Rosemarie Brewer and Lola Hansen at one of the first funerals she’s in charge of running. It exposes a nasty dispute and Rosemarie’s husband, Alan, is found murdered shortly after.

Lola’s husband, Kyle, is immediately arrested. Desiree, whose own father’s death was devastating, has always viewed Kyle as a second father. Determined to clear his name, Desiree jumps head first into the investigation and quickly discovers that Alan had several unsavory habits at his job and in his personal life, including putting assets into his mistress’s account to hide them from Rosemarie. People murder for money and love all the time, and there’s no telling who he offended just enough to push them over the edge.

Desiree is looking in all the right places, but she better catch the killer fast before they come for her next in A Grave Issue, the clever series debut by Lillian Bell.

Welcome, Lillian!

When the opportunity to write a humorous cozy mystery that takes place in a funeral parlor arose, I jumped at it. It wasn’t until I tried to tell people about it, that I realized not everyone saw the possibilities. A funny book about deaths in a funeral parlor? I got more than a few polite smiles while people took a step or two back from me.

I blame my family  — my two sisters, in particular — for my morbid sense of humor. In times of great sorrow and stress, we make jokes and then laugh inappropriately. It’s generally unseemly and a little unattractive and has gotten us kicked out of more than one ICU, but it has also gotten us through some dark dark days. There’s only been one time I can think of that one of us (that would be me) made a joke so dark and inappropriate that the other two didn’t laugh. It’s kind of a badge of honor.

It’s not that we don’t respect death and the grieving process. We do. We’ve done our fair share. Possibly a little more than our fair share, to be honest. In fact, I think that’s why we make the jokes we do. There’s a well of sadness there that’s too deep. If we fell into it, we might not be able to climb out. Humor provides us with the rope we need to pull ourselves out of it.

That laughter is also a bit of defiance. Yes. Death is inevitable. As one sister often says, none of us is getting out of here alive. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in the meantime, though. So we laugh in death’s face.

It also breaks the tension. We are an anxious set of people, my sisters and I. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but the three of us share both those things so it doesn’t really matter. Funerals and all the rituals around them put a strain on everyone. Nothing diffuses a burgeoning argument over what music to play or what food to serve or what to put in an obituary than a really terrible joke that is both horrifying and hysterical.

We use our laughter to honor people, too. We reminisce about the times the people we miss made us laugh. Okay. Sometimes we were laughing at them and not with them, but it still keeps them alive in our thoughts and hearts.

That balance between sadness and laughter along with a bit of defiance was what I tried to strike as I wrote A Grave Issue (and its follow-up If the Coffin Fits). I wanted my heroine to respect the people who were grieving and to take her job seriously, but I also wanted her to be a bit of a rebel and to be able to laugh at herself.

Readers: Does anyone else laugh inappropriately to get them through tough situations? What was the worst place you cracked up yourself or someone else?

Bio: Lillian Bell is the author of the Funeral Parlor Mysteries published by Crooked Lane Books. As Kristi Abbott, she is the author of the Popcorn Shop Mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime. She also writes as Eileen Rendahl and Eileen Carr. Lillian lives and writes in northern California.


Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, delighted my buddy Leslie Karst has a new mystery coming out next month!Death al Fresco cover

Death Al Fresco is the next in Leslie’s Sally Solari Mysteries. I loved the first two and can’t wait to read this one, too. Her publisher, Crooked Lane, will give away a hardcover copy to one commenter here today.

It’s early autumn in Santa Cruz and restaurateur Sally Solari, inspired by the eye-popping canvases of Paul Gauguin, the artist for whom her restaurant is named, enrolls in a plein air painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when Sally’s dog sniffs out a corpse entangled in a pile of kelp.

The body is identified as Gino, a local fisherman and a regular at Sally’s father’s restaurant, Solari’s, until he disappeared after dining there a few nights before. But after witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing the old man to walk home alone at night. From a long menu of suspects, including a cast of colorful characters who frequent the historic Santa Cruz fisherman’s wharf, Sally must serve up a tall order in order to clear her father’s name.

Here’s Leslie talking about how she channeled a recent brush with fear into creativity.

Channeling Your Fear

Every murder mystery requires at least one high-tension scene—a situation where the protagonist feels at risk, and where the reader experiences the fear along with that person. It could be a danger or threat to either the main character herself or to someone she cares for, but there has to be a point in the story where the hero’s heart starts to pound and her hands sweat (though hopefully not in those exact words), and where she feels utterly helpless and alone.

I’ve now written a fair share of these suspenseful scenes, and every time I do so I find myself growing anxious and tense along with my protagonist, Sally Solari. My pulse will quicken and sometimes my hands will even begin to shake as I type the words onto my laptop.

photo 1

Perhaps the fact that I write the series in the first person makes the telling more, well, personal than it would be if done in the third person. But I suspect most writers have a similar experience when crafting these scenes. And it seems to me that unless you can indeed put yourself in the mental state of your character, the tension you attempt to create will likely fall flat.

As I considered what to discuss in this blog post, I thought back to the times I’ve been frightened in my own life. Because it’s from such experiences that we writers can mine our past feelings and emotions and insert them into our characters.

There weren’t, however, many moments I could come up with. Being scared by lightening storms or tornado warnings during my early years in Columbus, Ohio. And that summer as a college student in Barcelona when I’d found myself running from the Guardia Civil, ducking into a small shop to avoid the rubber bullets being fired at the protest I’d unwittingly walked into. But nothing truly terrifying had ever happened to me.

Nothing, that is, until that “incoming ballistic missile” alert last month.

photo 2

I was on my Saturday morning bike ride in Hilo, Hawai‘i, sweating and pumping up a steep hill, when a car suddenly pulled over right in front of me and the two young people jumped out. “Stop!” they shouted.

I stopped as directed. What the heck were they in such a tizzy about?

“A missile alert was just sent out for the entire state!”

In response my dumbfounded stare, they stepped forward to show me their phones: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.


In a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride kind of drive across town, they transported me and my bicycle back home so I could get my dog, and I gathered a few things as fast as I could and took her down to the grocery store a few blocks away—the nearest place that’s a concrete structure. I tried calling my wife, who was in Honolulu, but the call wouldn’t go through.

photo 3

Thirty-nine minutes after the original alert, we finally got another text saying there was in fact no bomb threat—that the message had been sent out in error. But during that time I was as frightened as I’ve ever been in my life.

Later, I tried to identify the emotions that had swept over me and remember exactly how I’d acted during those few minutes during which I’d believed, “This might be the end.” Heart pounding and body shaking, yes. But I was also surprisingly calm—at least on the outside. My mind had immediately gone into “Okay, what do I need to do” mode, and I proceeded accordingly.

Interesting, I thought as I jotted down notes about the event. Unsettled and jittery though I was still feeling, I recognized that what I’d gone through had provided me with invaluable information. So, although I would never wish such an experience on anyone, there was a silver lining to having lived through this horrific scare: I can use it in my writing!

Readers: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? If you’re a writer, how have you channeled the emotions from fear into your work? Remember, you can win a copy of the new book!

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family karst headshotdinner 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. The next in the series, Death al Fresco, releases March 13th.

You can visit Leslie on Facebook , and you can go to her author website to sign up for her newsletter—full of recipes and fun Italian facts!—and to purchase all her books.

Happy Cruel Winter Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sheila Connolly. Her fifth County Cork Mystery, Cruel Winter, is cruelwinterout!

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons–and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder. Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case–and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case?

To celebrate, I (Edith) decided to make one of Sheila’s many Irish recipes from her other group blog, Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. She’s over there most Fridays sharing dishes, both savory and sweet, that she has concocted. I’ve adapted the following recipe slightly, but what follows isn’t too far from her Feb 7 post of three years ago. As you can see, I didn’t have Irish whiskey, but figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with using bourbon, instead.

Irish Chicken and Cabbage


1/2 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bone-in chicken breast halves, with skin on
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic,  minced
2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 T dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage
1-1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade/canned/from a bouillon cube)
Sheila’s twist—a tablespoon or two of Irish whiskey (Edith’s substitution—an equal amount of bourbon)



Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie pan and dredge the chicken pieces in it, shaking off the excess.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Tuck the garlic cloves, carrots, onions and rosemary around and between the chicken pieces. Lay the cabbage in an even layer on top and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the whiskey into the broth and pour the liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover the contents of the Dutch oven with its oven-proof lid, or with foil (press it against the contents to make a fairly close seal), then place the pot in the oven and cook for 75 (remember, the heat is low). Peek once or twice and baste the top with the pan juices.

irishchickTo serve, place a piece of chicken on the plate and spoon the vegetables and sauce over it. I urge you to check Sheila’s original recipe for pix of the entire process and for the few ingredients I left out (because, oops, I didn’t have them in the house).

I wanted to serve the dish with new potatoes steamed and then lightly sauteed in olive oil and herbs – except somebody in my house used the last potato and didn’t put them them on the shopping list. So instead I made quick whole-wheat soda biscuits. Which went almost better with the dish than the potatoes would have.

Readers: Who has read the County Cork series up to now and can’t wait to get your hands on this one?  [Me! Me!] Anybody been to Ireland and, if so, what was your favorite meal? Your favorite Irish pub near where you live?

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, happy to host my friend Leslie Karst again. And she’s giving away a copy of a-measure-of-murder-coverher brand-new book to one commenter here today. I loved the first book in the series and am delighted my copy popped up on my Kindle this morning. Check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly (it’s no mean feat to score stars from them):

“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.”

Take it away, Leslie.

I am especially thrilled to be a guest of the Wicked Cozies today, as this is the release day of A Measure of Murder, the second in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. And in celebration of all things wicked, I present a post about telling lies.

When Is a Lie Really the Truth?

Not long ago during a morning bike ride, I stopped to chat with another cyclist as we lifted our skinny-tire road bikes over a section of railroad tracks. “Lovely morning!” she commented, and I responded in kind. “I’m not often out this early,” the woman added, “but it’s great.”


Self portrait

“Oh, this is when I usually go riding,” I answered, “because I have a dog who always wakes me up early.”

The woman chuckled and gave me a knowing smile before riding off. Now, this may not seem like an out-of-the-ordinary exchange, and you may in fact be wondering what point it could possibly have. But here’s the thing: My dog, Ziggy, almost never wakes me up in the morning. She pretty much always sleeps in—well past the time I ever get up.

So the point is, I lied to the cyclist. And for no apparent reason. The fib just flew out of my mouth, unwarranted and unplanned. Now, why the heck did I do that? I wondered as I pedaled off in the opposite direction.

Weeks later, I was contemplating a suitable subject for this Wicked Cozies blog post and decided it would be fun to write about something “wicked.” And then, remembering my interaction with the woman at the railroad tracks, it occurred to me that telling lies is certainly considered wicked—at least in most circles.

Okay, then: Why did I make up that story about my dog?


What my dog really looks like in the morning

Perhaps the first thing to do is recognize the difference between outright lying and embellishing. Or exaggerating. Or telling tall tales. Every story-teller wants to spin a good yarn, so the tendency is to embellish. And if your audience is enjoying what you’re doing, you kick it up a notch. Just look at the tales of Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. Or the “news” stories reported by Mark Twain when he worked as a journalist, which often failed completely to distinguish between fiction and fact.

So maybe when I told my fellow cyclist about my dog waking me up, it was simply because the real story—that I just seem to wake up early these days—was boring. And even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, my unconscious self wanted something better. (My previous dog, by the way, did wake me up early every single morning, so wasn’t an out-and-out lie.)


The urge to tell a good story never ends

But tall tales don’t exist solely for their entertainment value. They serve a far greater purpose, and are often “truer” than the literal truth. When used as metaphor, exaggeration can make a point far better than any real account ever could. This is what archetypes and mythology are all about. Through embellishment, they cut straight to the essence, to those attributes which make us human, make us “everyman.”

Okay, so my little fib about Ziggy doesn’t rise to the level of the adventures of Odysseus, or of his modern incarnation, Leopold Bloom . But the urge to tell a compelling story comes from the same place.

And maybe that need to embellish, to tell that tall tale, to create that metaphor, is what makes us writers. Because when done well, stretching the facts—or even making them up whole cloth—isn’t lying about what happened. It’s actually telling the truth.


Child’s rendering of a Greek hero

Readers: Have you ever caught yourself telling a fib for no reason other than to make your story more interesting? At what point do you think this moves from mere “embellishment” to actual “lying”? (Remember, one commenter wins a copy of the book!)


In A Measure of Murder, chef Sally Solari joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, but at the first rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, 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 her restaurant 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?

karst-headshotThe 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 and at



Sherry, here. We are so happy to have Michele Dorsey visit us on her book birthday! If you haven’t read No Virgin Island add it to your TBR pile immediately! And then grab a copy of her second book Permanent Sunset. Michele is giving away a copy of Permanent Sunset to someone who leaves a comment by midnight tonight!

permanentsunsetfinal1Michele: About a year ago, I blogged about “birthing a book” ( and predicted that No Virgin Island, my first mystery, would have siblings. Today, Permanent Sunset joins the Sabrina Salter family. I had no idea how difficult writing that second book would be, although there were many colleagues who tried to warn me. But I wouldn’t listen. For those of you who have gone through the adventures of pregnancy, followed by the agony of labor and delivery, you may recall that once you see that beautiful little creature you’ve birthed, all memories of the pain you suffered bringing it into the world are instantly erased. So it is with birthing a book, it seems.

Books are never written in vacuums. Permanent Sunset was created, written, edited, and re-edited while my husband and I excavated layers of debris from the 33 years we had lived in our home, which we were now selling in an effort to downsize our lives and our possessions. Anyone who has gone through this exercise can tell you that it is not as simple as sorting into three piles:  sell, throw, or keep. There are emotions attached to so many items. What was I supposed to do with my mother’s wedding gown? The rock painted green by my son who insisted in nursery school that his mother was going to have a real sham-ROCK for St. Patrick’s Day? My father’s formal Navy cap and epaulets?

michelehouseI became a little unhinged with the rush of emotions flowing on my daily trips to donate stuff at Savers. What I hadn’t expected was that there would be a collision with the feelings I was experiencing while simultaneously writing my second book.

Who was Sabrina Salter? She certainly wasn’t satisfied to be merely the person through whom the story was told about a lavish island villa and the family that is nearly destroyed because of it. Sure, she had a life and had experiences in No Virgin Island that defined her at the time, but she now faced new circumstances, which were revealing an emerging Sabrina. Sabrina refused to be stagnant. The woman was becoming a handful for me.

When Sabrina resisted pressure from her business partner, Henry, to add an opulent villa to their management company, I found myself cheering for her. When she caved, I was disappointed and ready to scold her. I endured her smug satisfaction when it turned out she was right and Henry had been deadly wrong, but was a little disappointed in her.

Sabrina’s tragic motherless childhood had her questioning everything she did, for without role models or a library full of self-help manuals, she was ill equipped to handle the challenges that a powerful and wealthy family present when one of their own has been murdered. She agonized over every decision, doubting herself while trying to muster the courage to figure out what is “normal.” I was having enough trouble trying to make decisions in my own life and now Sabrina was asking me to make hers.

I hadn’t planned on my second baby being so difficult. I thought I knew Sabrina and Henry, and even Neil Perry, her sort-of boyfriend, pretty well. When even Neil began to surprise me with his secrets, I knew this second baby would be no more predictable that the first.

Once we’d nearly emptied our house and had a signed purchase and sales agreement, my husband faced a serious health challenge. Again, ripples of fear and doubt raced through me, while I continued to resist being drawn in by the perils of my second baby. I had enough on my plate.

But it turns out, that’s not how writing goes. Until I learned to stop fighting my characters efforts to draw me in because I was trying to deal with what was going on in my own real world, I would never be able to tell their story. I began to tell my husband I was “going on in” when I set off to write.  What I meant was that I was surrendering to Sabrina, Henry, and Neil and shutting out the rest of the world. They could give me what they had. I would feel their pain, joy, confusion, and anything else they would give me. I was ready to accept them all as gifts and birth this second baby.

Once I yielded, the story flowed. The house sold. The husband was okay.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
Steven Pressfield

micheleC. “Michele” Dorsey is the author of No Virgin Island, a Sabrina Salter mystery published in 2015 by Crooked Lane Books set on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. She is also a lawyer, mediator and adjunct professor of law. Michele finds inspiration and serenity on St. John and on Cape Cod. Permanent Sunset, the second in the series, will be published in October,  2016.

Readers: How do you feel when you are ready to read a second in a series book? Writers: Did you feel the way Michele did about your second book?


Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, busier than heck, but not too busy to welcome Leslie Karst! Leslie and I met when we roomed together at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California a couple of years ago. We’d only known each other online previously, but in person we learned we both had a taste for a spot of whiskey and good conversation. I am SO thrilled her debut mystery is coming out, and she’s giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter today.The story is set in Santa Cruz, California – where I almost went to college – and when I read an advance copy, I was able to unreservedly give it a glowing endorsement:

“You won’t want to push away this delicious plate of mystery from debut author Leslie Dying for a Taste coverKarst. And you’ll be Dying for a Taste of sleuth Sally Solari’s family’s cooking, both Italian and Polynesian. Don’t read while hungry!”

Here’s what the book’s about: 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 of being a real cook.

Then her Aunt Letta is found murdered at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is the only one who can keep the place afloat. When the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, however, Sally is forced to delve into the unfamiliar world of organic food, sustainable farming, and animal rights activists—not to mention a few family secrets—to help clear his name and catch the true culprit before her timer runs out. 

Take it away, Leslie!

Food Revolution or Food Fad?

Santa Cruz, California—my home town, as well as that of my protagonist, Sally Solari—is probably best known for two quite different things: its historic roller coaster (take a ride on it here !), and its high population of hippies and

The Giant Dipper

The Giant Dipper


The juxtaposition of these contrasting cultures—as played out on the food scene—provides the backdrop for my culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste. Sally, who practically grew up in the kitchen of her family’s old-school Italian eatery, knows little about the “food revolution” that has recently descended upon her sleepy seaside resort town. But when her aunt is found murdered at her trendy restaurant and the sous chef is accused of the crime, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic farming and animal rights activists in her quest to find the true killer.

This plot line stems from beliefs that are dear to my heart. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainable and humane food practices, and do my best to buy pastured meat, sustainable fish, and local produce when I can. But at the same time, I’m well aware that

Santa Cruz Farmers' Market

Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market

aspects of the current food movement could be seen as completely unrealistic, or just another food fad. There are, no doubt, those out there for whom buying local and organic food is merely a status symbol—rather like owning a Versace purse.

And let’s face it: Most folks couldn’t become pure locavores no matter how much they wanted to (try getting “local” citrus or bananas in New England, for example, or “local” coffee or maple syrup in California). And for countless inner-city residents, finding fresh vegetables at all—not to mention organic ones—is a near impossibility.

Hawaiian chameleon blending in

Hawaiian chameleon blending in

That said, I don’t think we should simply dismiss the change that is now occurring around the world in how we look at food. For the last fifty years (I’d date it from the advent of the TV dinner) we, as a society, have become disconnected from what we eat. We haven’t known—or cared—where it came from or how it was produced, being under the thrall of the convenience and cheapness caused by its mass-production. We have no idea what it took to produce that dollar meal cheese-burger, and it would require a chemist to translate the dozens of artificial ingredients that are in that “shake” (they can’t call them milkshakes, because they contain no milk).

But lately people seem to be waking up. Once more they’re starting to see the connection

Egg farm near Santa Cruz

Egg farm near Santa Cruz

between the foods they consume and the health of themselves and the planet. Just five years ago, for instance, I had a hard time finding eggs from pastured hens in Santa Cruz; now Safeway carries them.

And Walmart is selling organic foods, a sure sign that even “middle America” has become concerned with the amount of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides in our food.

Fad or not, I see these as good signs.

Readers: What are your views of the “food movement”? How much is fad and how much is true concern for the health of people and our planet? What do you think of Walmart and other giant corporations jumping on the organic/sustainable food bandwagon? Remember, Leslie is giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter!

karst headshotLeslie Karst is the author of the culinary mystery, Dying for a Taste, the first of the Sally Solari Mystery series (Crooked Lane Books). A former research and appellate attorney, Leslie now spends her days cooking, gardening, reading, 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, Hawai‘i. Visit her at Leslie Karst Author for more.