Sally Solari is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about The Fragrance of Death, the latest novel in the Sally Solari mystery series.
Welcome, Sally. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about the novel that you live inside. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
I’m Sally Solari, a fourth-generation Italian from the beautiful beach town of Santa Cruz, California. My great-grandfather, Ciro, emigrated here from Liguria back in the late eighteen hundreds and plied his trade as a fisherman, catching the anchovies, lingcod, salmon, and squid that swim the waters of the Monterey Bay. His son, Salvatore, founded Solari’s, an Italian seafood restaurant out on the town’s historic fisherman’s wharf, and I pretty much grew up in its kitchen, helping my parents serve linguine with clam sauce, fried calamari, and homemade fugassa bread.
But when my Aunt Letta was murdered almost two years ago in the garde manger of Gauguin, her trendy, upscale eatery in downtown Santa Cruz, I not only inherited her restaurant—which has caused some big-time friction between my father and me—but I also undertook to investigate Letta’s death. Which is why there’s now a five-book series of mysteries with me as their protagonist. Because you know what? Turns out I’m pretty good at this sleuthing thing. You can read about my most recent exploits in Leslie Karst’s The Fragrance of Death, in which I investigate the death of one of my fellow competitors at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off.
Does the writer control what happens in the story or do you get a say too?
I can be pretty bossy, but Leslie’s the writer, so I give her a fair amount of slack with regard to her story telling. I mean, my life in reality is not nearly so exciting as she portrays it in the books. But then again, who would want to read about the long hours I spend at Gauguin filleting black cod, whisking up batches of sauce béarnaise, and struggling over the front-of-the-house scheduling when someone calls in sick? It’s far more exciting to read about the time I spend sneaking around investigating murders, so if she chooses to omit some of the drudgery from my days, I say, power to her!
How did you evolve as the main character?
I think the primary way in which I’ve evolved over the five books in the series is that I’ve become far more confident—not only as a sleuth, but also as a cook and restaurant owner, and as a person in general. And also much wiser. When I think back now to the time I investigated my Aunt Letta’s death, I’m amazed at how naïve I was, assuming I could simply waltz into the situation and solve her murder like some kind of Italian Miss Marple. Turns out murder suspects don’t always take kindly to you snooping around their private lives. So I’ve become a bit more savvy. Oh, and I’m also SUCH a better cook now than when I hefted my first sauté pan on the Gauguin line….
Do you have any other characters you like sharing the story with? If so, why are you partial to them?
I’m pleased that Leslie decided to include my actual family, friends, and coworkers in the stories, because they mean so much to me in real life—and they all have such fascinating backstories of their own. I may have my issues with my dad, Mario, who—ever since I inherited Gauguin—has had a hard time not thinking I’m looking down on his old-school restaurant and our family’s Italian traditions, but ultimately, we’re fagmilia. And there’s little more important than that.
As for my head chef, Javier, he’s been a godsend to me, teaching me the ropes of running a restaurant and being there for me when I most need it.
And then there’s the charming, boyish, surfing district attorney, Eric. He’s my ex-boyfriend, but he’s also my BFF. I can’t imagine not having him in my life, so thank goodness he’s such a vital part of these stories.
What’s the place like where you find yourself in this story?
I am so happy that Leslie has given Santa Cruz the starring role it deserves in her mystery series, as it’s truly a special place. The town’s old-time Italian fishermen and restaurant owners—now having to come to terms with the newly-arrived techies and hipsters, along with their passion for the modern food movement—make for a colorful cast of characters. And with the stunning beauty of the town’s coastline and redwood forests, lively downtown, and famous roller coaster as a backdrop, I think she considered it pretty much a no-brainer to use the real Santa Cruz in her books.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about you and the book?
That—contrary to what a lot of people think—I’m not Leslie. Okay, so we do share many things in common: our love of food and cooking, dogs, Giants baseball, single-barrel bourbon, and snarky comebacks. And we’re both ex-lawyers who far prefer whipping up a mushroom omelette with Gruyère cheese to drafting a motion to compel discovery.
But we’re different, too. Leslie, for example, if faced with a dead body, would turn and high-tail it the other way as fast as her short little legs would carry her. Nor, I’m guessing, would she want to own a restaurant. Having to work nights, weekends, and holidays and be on your feet for hours on end with an aching back and burns all over your arms and hands? No way could she possibly handle that. (And now that I think about it, why the heck do I want to so? I guess it must simply be a part of my family genes.)
Thank you for answering my questions, Sally, and good luck to you and your author, Leslie Karst, with The Fragrance of Death, the latest book in the Sally Solari mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Leslie Karst: Leslie 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 “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 Leslie rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking and 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.