Hawaiian Noir

Murder Calls

Kaena Point

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North Shore (left) meets Leeward Coast where the mountains end at Kaena Point

Just down the road from our cottage in Mokuleia is Kaena Point. It is the farthest point on Oahu, where the North Shore meets the Leeward Coast. It is a wild place with driving winds and crashing waves, In the old days, a railroad went through linking the North Shore sugar plantations with the Leeward side and beyond to Honolulu. Now, the only evidence of the railroad are the remains of bridges spanning a few gulches. There are no paved roads and only four-wheel drives with special permits are allowed. About three miles in, the unimproved road becomes impassable for all vehicles. It is not possible to go around the point except by foot.

The area has been designated as a nature preserve to provide a breeding area for protected species such as Laysan Albatrosses, Hawaiian monk seals, and other shore birds. In 2011, the state constructed a predator fence around a large section of the point to keep out dogs, cats, and mongooses, which threaten the nesting sites of shore birds.

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A Laysan Albatross calls to her chick at Kaena Point

Kaena Point is popular place for hiking, fishing, getting close looks at the endangered species. The hike is well worth it, but challenging. In Hawaiian, Kaena means “the heat.” Hikers need to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. In the 70s and 80s, before the point became a nature preserve, a foot-race, called the Oahu Perimeter Relay went through Kaena Point.

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Waves breaking on lava formations at Kaena Point

The race was run by teams of seven. Each team had two vehicles to transport the runners between legs. The total distance around Oahu is 140 miles. Each leg of the race was about 3 miles, with the longest leg being the one that went around Kaena Point, a distance of about 7 miles. Teams started at different times based on their estimates of when they would reach Kaena Point. The idea was to reach it at dawn because you did not want to run it in the dark. You could die. The two cars were needed because the team had to split at Waialua, with one vehicle and several runners going on to Kaena point and the other vehicle going over the mountains to the Leeward side to meet the runner coming around the point. I did the race three times and got to run the point once. It was a grueling, challenging race.

Go For Broke

From September 1943 to July, 1944, the 100th Infantry and the other units of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, saw some of the most intensive fighting in the Italian campaign. The 100th landed at Salerno with 1300 men. They fought through the Volturno River, Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line. From there they went to Anzio where they were joined by replacements from the 442nd and took part in intensive fighting that ended with the liberation of Rome. Sadly, the Nisei did not get to enter Rome with the other Fifth Army units. Instead, they were sent to Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome where the 100th was joined by the other units of the 442nd.

In July, 1944, the 2nd and 3rd battalions took the city of Pisa. During August of 1944, the Nisei held the area from Pisa to Florence. On September 1, the Allies crossed the Arno River. The 2nd and 3rd met heavy resistance and took many casualties, while the 100th crossed almost unopposed.

In the Naples to Rome campaign, waged primarily by the 100th, the Nisei suffered 584 casualties (139 killed, 442 wounded, and 3 missing). In the Rome to the Arno campaign waged by the 100th and 442nd, the Nisei suffered 1,272 casualties (239 killed, 1,016 wounded, and 17 missing.) After one year, the Nisei lost a total of 1,856 men.

Ted T. Tanouye was born near Torrance California. He enlisted in the US Army in February 1942, His parents and siblings were interned first in the Jerome War Relocation Center near Jerome, Arkansas. They were later moved to the Rohwer War Relocation Center near Rohwer, Arkansas.

Shortly after arriving in Italy with the 442nd, near Molino a Ventoabbto, he repeatedly advanced alone taking heavy fire from the Germans and despite being wounded by a grenade. He continued to fight until his platoon had taken the crest of Hill 140. He recovered from his wounds and returned to the front lines where he was wounded again, this time by a land mine near San Mauro Cilento, and died five days later.

Medal of Honor

Name: Tanouye, Ted T.
Born: November 14, 1919
Died: September 6, 1944
Rank: Technical Sergeant
Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Medal of Honor Citation

Technical Sergeant Ted T. Tanouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 7 July 1944, near Molino A Ventoabbto, Italy. Technical Sergeant Tanouye led his platoon in an attack to capture the crest of a strategically important hill that afforded little cover. Observing an enemy machine gun crew placing its gun in position to his left front, Technical Sergeant Tanouye crept forward a few yards and opened fire on the position, killing or wounding three and causing two others to disperse. Immediately, an enemy [[machine pistol]] opened fire on him. He returned the fire and killed or wounded three more enemy soldiers. While advancing forward, Technical Sergeant Tanouye was subjected to grenade bursts, which severely wounded his left arm. Sighting an enemy-held trench, he raked the position with fire from his submachine gun and wounded several of the enemy. Running out of ammunition, he crawled 20 yards to obtain several clips from a comrade on his left flank. Next, sighting an enemy machine pistol that had pinned down his men, Technical Sergeant Tanouye crawled forward a few yards and threw a hand grenade into the position, silencing the pistol. He then located another enemy machine gun firing down the slope of the hill, opened fire on it, and silenced that position. Drawing fire from a machine pistol nest located above him, he opened fire on it and wounded three of its occupants. Finally taking his objective, Technical Sergeant Tanouye organized a defensive position on the reverse slope of the hill before accepting first aid treatment and evacuation. Technical Sergeant Tanouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army

Poke (poh keh), the hamburger of Hawaii?

Poke has been called, by some, the hamburger of Hawaii. Go to any party, barbecue, or other gathering and someone will bring poke. Go to any supermarket deli, or corner convenience store and you will find poke. It’s served as an appetizer, a side dish, or sometimes a main dish. It was one of the uniquely Hawaiian dishes we were really looking forward to on our return to the Islands in March. What we were not prepared for was the incredible variety of poke that we found. When we lived there in the 80’s, there was only one kind of poke, prepared with essentially the same ingredients. Any variety came from the combination of those ingredients by different preparers. Our first visit to the deli counter in Times Supermarket in Kailua was a shock. There were over thirty varieties of poke.

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Poke Offerings, Times Supermarket, Kailua.

So what is poke? Poke is a Hawaiian word meaning to cut or chop. Fresh ahi tuna (yellow fin tuna) is what is cut, diced, into small cubes. Add some chopped sweet onions (Maui onions if in Hawaii, otherwise Vidalia onions). Mix the ahi and onions with sesame oil, soy sauce, and, if you have it, some limu—a kind of seaweed. Stir it and let it rest, but not too long. Poke should be eaten fresh-made.

That’s the basic kind. Frankly, it’s how I prefer it. However, we found it fun, even exciting to try all the different kinds and they are many. The species of fish is the main variation. Poke can be made of swordfish, salmon, mussels, octopus, fish roe, and even avocado. Then there are the different ingredients. Kimchi instead of onions, for example. Wasabi, sriracha, vinegar, or pepper-infused oils add different flavorings. Gotta say that the very best place we found for poke was at the Sack n Save on Farrington highway in Nanakuli.

So, for that next tailgate event, instead of slapping some ground meat patties on the grill, just poke up some fresh tuna and onions for an ono (delicious) treat.

This Weekend in Mystery

Houston Writers House hosts a crime and punishment weekend Friday, September 15 and Saturday, September 16 at the Crowne Plaza Houston Galleria. The event kicks off with a murder mystery dinner Friday evening. The keynote speaker Friday evening is Texas Ranger Lieutenant, Wende Wakeman.

Saturday features talks by forensic artist Lois Gibson and A&M forensic entomologist Dr. Adrienne Brundage in the morning. DNA specialist Priscilla A. Hill and developmental editor Monica Shaughnessy will speak in the afternoon, followed by a  panel of crime experts.

Charlie Chan Aphorism

Always harder to make murder secret than for egg to bounce on sidewalk.


Hardboiled Quote::

I don’t like your manner.

—crime reporter Adrienne Fromsett

I’m not selling it.

—private eye Philip Marlowe, Lady In The Lake, 1947

House Without A Key Kiawe Tree

last month I mentioned in a post that the venerable kiawe tree that forms the backdrop of the lanai stage of the Halekulani’s House Without A Key, had fallen. The hotel was making efforts to save it.  Now comes news from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, that the tree is showing new growth.
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Go For Broke

While the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 442nd were engaged in the fight for Hill 140, the 100th was preparing to attack the town of Castellina Marittima in the province of Pisa in Tuscany. On July 7, 1944, the day Hill 140 fell, they launched the attack. They took the high ground on the northwestern side of the town. At dawn, 2nd platoon C company entered the town. They met heavy resistance and fought back numerous German counterattacks. Private First Class, Kaoru Moto, single-handedly silenced two machine gun positions and captured a German soldier. Then, while severely wounded by a sniper, he wiped out another machine gun position. Company B moved north into the town and the town, also meeting heavy resistance. The 522nd artillery laid down a heavy barrage and forced the Germans to retreat. The 100th secured the town. Between July 18 to July 20, the 2nd and 3rd battalions took the town of Pisa on the Arno River.

Near the town of Pieve di Santa Luce in the Pisa district, Staff Sergeant Otani directed his platoon to safety after being pinned down by hostile fire. He killed one sniper and then, exposing himself to machine gun fire, he created a distraction which allowed his men to reach cover. He was killed by hostile fire while attempting to save a wounded member of his platoon. Otani had volunteered for the 442nd while he and his family were interned at the Gila River Was Relocation Center in Arizona.

By the time the Rome-Arno campaign ended, the 100th/442nd had lost 1,272 (17 missing, 239 killed, 1,016 wounded or injured) men while covering a distance of forty miles.

Medal of Honor

Kaoru Moto

Born: April 25, 1917, Makawao, Hawaii
Died: August 26, 1992, Makawao, Hawaii
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: 100th Battalion

Medal of Honor citation

Private First Class Kaoru Moto distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 7 July 1944, near Castellina, Italy. While serving as first scout, Private First Class Moto observed a machine gun nest that was hindering his platoon’s progress. On his own initiative, he made his way to a point ten paces from the hostile position, and killed the enemy machine gunner. Immediately, the enemy assistant gunner opened fire in the direction of Private First Class Moto. Crawling to the rear of the position, Private First Class Moto surprised the enemy soldier, who quickly surrendered. Taking his prisoner with him, Private First Class Moto took a position a few yards from a house to prevent the enemy from using the building as an observation post. While guarding the house and his prisoner, he observed an enemy machine gun team moving into position. He engaged them, and with deadly fire forced the enemy to withdraw. An enemy sniper located in another house fired at Private First Class Moto, severely wounding him. Applying first aid to his wound, he changed position to elude the sniper fire and to advance. Finally relieved of his position, he made his way to the rear for treatment. Crossing a road, he spotted an enemy machine gun nest. Opening fire, he wounded two of the three soldiers occupying the position. Not satisfied with this accomplishment, he then crawled forward to a better position and ordered the enemy soldier to surrender. Receiving no answer, Private First Class Moto fired at the position, and the soldiers surrendered. Private First Class Moto’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.


Kazuo Otani
Born: June 2, 1918, Visalia, California
Died: July 15, 1944 near Pieve di Santa Luce, Italy
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Medal of Honor citation

Staff Sergeant Kazuo Otani distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 15 July 1944, near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Advancing to attack a hill objective, Staff Sergeant Otani’s platoon became pinned down in a wheat field by concentrated fire from enemy machine gun and sniper positions. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Staff Sergeant Otani left his cover and shot and killed a sniper who was firing with deadly effect upon the platoon. Followed by a steady stream of machine gun bullets, Staff Sergeant Otani then dashed across the open wheat field toward the foot of a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the movement of the platoon drew heavy enemy fire, he dashed along the cliff toward the left flank, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Staff Sergeant Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. At this point, one of his men became seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Staff Sergeant Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground in full view of the enemy. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Staff Sergeant Otani proceeded to render first aid treatment, but was mortally wounded by machine gun fire. Staff Sergeant Otani’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.


Woman of Noir

Megan Abbott is one of the best contemporary noir writers. My introduction to her work was a short story, Policy, which appeared in an anthology of short stories, Damned Near Dead edited by Duane Swierczyinski. It appeared one year after her debut novel, Die A Little. Abbott expanded Policy into a novel, Queenpin.

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Queenpin by Megan Abbott

Queenpin is a story set in the world of Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, casinos, race tracks, betting parlors, and heists. The story is told by a nameless young woman who starts out as a book keeper at a seedy cocktail lounge, the Club Tee Hee. She meets Gloria Denton, an elegant mob luminary who is probably about 60, but looks 45 in the right light. The story opens with the lines:

I want the legs.
That’s the first thing I think. The legs are the legs of a 20-year-old Vegas showgirl, a hundred feet long and with just enough curve and give and promise.

Gloria takes the unnamed young bookkeeper under her wing. She teaches her how to act, how to dress, how to place bets so you don’t mess up the odds, but get a 70% return on your bets. Gloria is cunning and ruthless. Stories accumulate around her. How she carried a long-handled, bejeweled scissors with her when she collected money in the rough parts of town; How she gutted a stripper who had crossed her with a straight razor; How she worked a roomful of mobsters on her knees.

Gloria has one measure of success. When a woman calls her a whore, Gloria responds,

“I’m the best damn cocksucker in this burg, and I got the rocks to prove it. Your knees have rubbed plenty of carpets, you rotten bitch. Where are your diamonds?”

Under the guidance of her mentor, the young woman finds that the world is at her feet. The two of them are making money and acquiring power. But as their money and power grows, the young woman takes some dangerous risks, like falling for the wrong guy. Both Gloria and the young woman have to scramble to keep their operation going. Soon they are in competition with each other and scrambling to stay alive.

My bookmark is in . . .

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The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever, by Megan Abbott, 2014. Unlike Queenpin, which was set in the 1950’s, The Fever is contemporary. The story opens with a strange ritual performed by a group of high school girls. We aren’t given the details of the ritual. Perhaps they will be revealed before the book ends.

We meet Deenie Nash, a diligent student, her brother Eli, a high school hockey star, and her father Tom, a teacher at the high school. Tom is divorced and dating women. Eli and Deenie are experimenting with sex, Eli more so than Deenie. Deenie’s best friend suffers a convulsion during class, causing turmoil among the clique of girls Deenie hangs with, and causing consternation among the parents and school officials.

The LeRoy, New York mass hysteria case in 2012 inspired the book.

Happy Labor Day!


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The Orange Cottage, Owen’s Retreat, Mokuleia, Oahu, 3/25/17

After a week in Waikiki at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in March, Mary Fran and I moved to Mokuleia for another week. Mokuleia is about as far as you can go on Oahu without turning around. It is on the North Shore, west of Waialua, towards Kaena Point. The cabin we rented was in a compound called Owen’s Retreat, which consisted of five cottages next to Mokuleia Beach Park. Our cottage, the Orange Cottage was basically a studio apartment built right on the beach. It had a bedroom, bathroom, very small kitchen, and a large lanai. How small was it? It was so small, there was only one way in and out of bed.

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Kite surfers, Mokuleia, Oahu, 3/20/17

Unlike other North Shore beaches, Mokuleia is not great surfing. There was one surf break just beyond the reef from our lanai where three or four surfers would appear every morning, but it was not crowded. The big attraction of Mokuleia is the wind. Every afternoon and evening as many as thirty windsurfers and kite surfers would hit the water off the beach park, providing us with an incredible show while we sipped our gin and tonics. We were so far from the city, there was hardly any light pollution. There was no moon while we were there. I can’t recall ever seeing so many stars. They seemed so close you could pick them out of the sky. We would go outside every night just to look at the Milky Way.

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Fisherman, Mokuleia, Oahu, 3/24/17

The reef came right up to the beach and had great snorkeling. It was a shallow, coral reef teeming with fish and turtles. One day while snorkeling, I had the great experience of having a very large turtle rise up from the bottom in front of me and swim ahead of me for several minutes. I didn’t see him on the bottom until he came up. On another evening, we were sitting at the water’s edge when a Hawaiian guy came sneaking out of the shrubbery behind us and crept to the water. He was watching the reef fish the whole time. When he reached the water he threw in a net and quickly pulled it back with thirty or forty fish. Anything smaller than his hand, he threw back in, but that left him with nearly half a bucket. He said he planned to split them open and fry them in oil like potato chips.

Although the beach was never crowded, we saw people out there everyday. On one day, while walking the beach, I came upon two old Polynesian guys under a tree playing music on a guitar and ukulele. They let me sit and listen. We about forty minutes we discussed life, philosophy, and Hawaii. They even played a little music for me.

Our last weekend at Mokuleia, we had 25 foot waves generated by a storm in the North Pacific. The water washed up under our cottage. The surf was a constant roar. I would go back in a minute.

Go For Broke!

Hill 140—Little Cassino

In July 2, 1944, the 442nd engaged the enemy near Livorno, Italy on their push to the Arno River. Hill 140, the main point of German resistance, was held by a single German battalion. The 2nd and 3rd battalions had to cross rolling hills and already harvested wheat fields under fire from German mortars and devastating 88s. The German mortars and artillery wiped out a machine gun squad of L company and all of G company except its commander.

For three days, the Nisei fought to hold their vulnerable position. The terrain was so rocky, they had difficulty digging trenches for protection from the German artillery. The fighting so fierce and so hard, they renamed Hill 140, Little Cassino.

On July 4, Private First Class Frank Ono’s squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. Ono set out on his own, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. He maintained an exposed position, making himself a target, until his squad could withdraw safely. Private First Class William Nakamura’s squad was likewise pinned down. Nakamura crawled to within 20 yards of the machine gun nest and lobbed four grenades, which destroyed it and the enemy. Then he maintained his position to cover the withdrawal of his platoon. Nakamura was killed by a sniper.

The 232nd engineers, attached to the 442nd defused land mines and the antitank company carried the wounded away. Casualties were so heavy they swamped the medics. The 522nd artillery maintained a barrage on the Germans. The 2nd battalion attacked on the eastern front and the 3rd battalion on the western front, converging on the German flanks. Finally on July 7, the 442nd seized Hill 140 from the Germans.

Medal of Honor Citations

Ono, Frank H.
Born: June 5, 1923, Delta, Colorado
Died: May 6, 1980.
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Medal of Honor citation:
Private First Class Frank H. Ono distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 4 July 1944, near Castellina, Italy. In attacking a heavily defended hill, Private First Class Ono’s squad was caught in a hail of formidable fire from the well-entrenched enemy. Private First Class Ono opened fire with his automatic rifle and silenced one machine gun 300 hundred yards to the right front. Advancing through incessant fire, he killed a sniper with another burst of fire, and while his squad leader reorganized the rest of the platoon in the rear, he alone defended the critical position. His weapon was then wrenched from his grasp by a burst of enemy machine pistol fire as enemy troops attempted to close in on him. Hurling hand grenades, Private First Class Ono forced the enemy to abandon the attempt, resolutely defending the newly won ground until the rest of the platoon moved forward. Taking a wounded comrade’s rifle, Private First Class Ono again joined in the assault. After killing two more enemy soldiers, he boldly ran through withering automatic, small arms, and mortar fire to render first aid to his platoon leader and a seriously wounded rifleman. In danger of being encircled, the platoon was ordered to withdraw. Volunteering to cover the platoon, Private First Class Ono occupied virtually unprotected positions near the crest of the hill, engaging an enemy machine gun emplaced on an adjoining ridge and exchanging fire with snipers armed with machine pistols. Completely disregarding his own safety, he made himself the constant target of concentrated enemy fire until the platoon reached the comparative safety of a draw. He then descended the hill in stages, firing his rifle, until he rejoined the platoon. Private First Class Ono’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

Nakamura, William Kenzo
Born: January 21, 1922
Died: July 4, 1944
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team

Nakamura and his family were interned in the Minidoka, Idaho concentration camp from which Nakamura volunteered serve. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Medal of Honor citation:
Private First Class William K. Nakamura distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 4 July 1944, near Castellina, Italy. During a fierce firefight, Private First Class Nakamura’s platoon became pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a concealed position. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura crawled 20 yards toward the hostile nest with fire from the enemy machine gun barely missing him. Reaching a point 15 yards from the position, he quickly raised himself to a kneeling position and threw four hand grenades, killing or wounding at least three of the enemy soldiers. The enemy weapon silenced, Private First Class Nakamura crawled back to his platoon, which was able to continue its advance as a result of his courageous action. Later, his company was ordered to withdraw from the crest of a hill so that a mortar barrage could be placed on the ridge. On his own initiative, Private First Class Nakamura remained in position to cover his comrades’ withdrawal. While moving toward the safety of a wooded draw, his platoon became pinned down by deadly machine gun fire. Crawling to a point from which he could fire on the enemy position, Private First Class Nakamura quickly and accurately fired his weapon to pin down the enemy machine gunners. His platoon was then able to withdraw to safety without further casualties. Private First Class Nakamura was killed during this heroic stand. Private First Class Nakamura’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

The Tiki Bar is open.

Fortunately for us in College Station, we were not adversely affected by Hurricane Harvey. We had a lot of rain, over 25 inches, but no damage. With nothing to do, we watched tv and drank. What better concoction than a Hurricane? We added our own variation to the traditional Hurricane. We call this the Hurricane Harvey.

File Aug 27, 3 54 40 PM

hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey
4 oz dark rum
2 oz lilikoi/passion fruit juice
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orgeat syrup
Juice of 1 Lime
Shake with crushed ice. Pour drink and ice into a Hurricane glass or a tiki mug.

Aloha! Have a happy and safe Labor Day Weekend!

Hawai`i/California Author Leslie Karst

I first met Leslie in March at Left Coast Crime in Honolulu where she and I shared a panel on writing mysteries about Hawai`i. From an early age through conversations with her parents, Leslie learned the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients, she says, for writing mysteries. Ingredients is the operative word here, because Leslie writes the Sally Solari culinary mystery 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.karst headshot

Welcome Leslie Karst.


MT: Let’s start with you. You divide your time between Hawai`i and California. How does your background inform your stories?

LK: I’ve lived in Santa Cruz, California since 1974, when I moved there from Southern California to attend UCSC. Falling in love with the place, I never left—until later also falling in love with Hilo, Hawai’i, years later. So when I retired from my job as a research and appellate attorney nine years ago, I started spending half the year in Santa Cruz and half in Hilo.

Although the first few books in my Sally Solari mystery series take place in Santa Cruz, I have started a book in which she travels to Hilo and (of course!) comes across a dead body—being slowly covered over by hot lava. My publisher doesn’t want me to change locations just yet, but I’m hoping that this book set in Hawai’i will be number five in the series.


MT: You have a legal background and have studied culinary arts. Do those experiences enter your stories?

LK: Absolutely. At the start of the series, Sally is an ex-lawyer who’s been sucked back into working at her dad’s Italian American seafood restaurant, Solari’s. And then she inherits her murdered aunt’s trendy restaurant, Gauguin, as well, so she ends up having to work at two different restaurants at the same time. So there’s a bit of law and a lot of food in all the books.


MT: What drew you to writing mysteries?

LK: I think I was mostly attracted by the “rules” that apply to the genre—having clues and red herrings, a certain number of suspects, and a logical conclusion, while all the time playing fair with your reader. (It must be the lawyer in me.) But I also love that it’s a genre that allows for lots of character development, subplots, and interesting settings, which fleshes out the stories and makes them unique.


MT: How would you characterize your mysteries? Why did you choose that sub-genre?

LK: I see my culinary mysteries as falling somewhere between cozy and traditional—I like to call them “snarky cozies.” Since this is the sort of mysteries I like to read, it seemed the obvious genre to choose when I decided to pen my own.


MT: Your main character, Sally Solari, runs an eatery. Why did you decide on that? How does her occupation fit in her sleuthing?

LK: I knew from the start that I wanted to write a culinary mystery, since I’m obsessed with food and cooking and have a degree in culinary arts. You always want your protagonist to face some kind of obstacles, and the restaurant business—which is exhausting and difficult—seemed perfect for this. But in addition, the restaurant business also brings in a constant flow of new characters, and thereby, potential victims and killers!


MT: If your books were made into movies, who would you cast in the roles?

LK: Jennifer Garner as Sally; Brad Pitt as Eric; and Robert Forster as Sally’s dad, Mario. (I can dream, can’t I?)


MT: Marshall McLuhan said that if you don’t know if you will like a book, turn to page 69. If you like what you read there, you will like the book. What happens on page 69 of your latest book?

LK: Page 69 of A Measure of Murder, the latest book in the Sally Solari series: After woodshedding her alto part for the Mozart Requiem, Sally takes a break to fix herself a quesadilla with Irish cheddar cheese, avocado slices, and Tapatío hot sauce.


MT: How important is setting to your stories?

LK: Very. I think of Santa Cruz, California, the setting for my Sally Solari mysteries, as almost another character. At the time I arrived there in 1974, it was still a sleepy beach town, home to Italian fishermen, ranchers, retirees, and summer vacationers drawn by its famous redwood trees and Boardwalk. But over the years, largely because of the advent of the university in the late-1960s, Santa Cruz has experienced profound changes, and these days the town is teeming with hipsters and hippies and urban professionals. And along with these newcomers, the food movement has descended full-force upon the surprised old-timers.Dying for a Taste cover

As I witnessed (and participated in) the advent of this “foodie” revolution and its effects on our once-sleepy town, it hit me that the juxtaposition of these two cultures would make for a terrific backdrop to a mystery story: What would happen, I wondered, if a local Santa Cruz gal suddenly found herself caught between the world of her family’s traditional, old-fashioned Italian restaurant, and that of the newly-arrived, politically-correct food activists?


MT: What do you do to give readers a sense of place?

LK: Since I live in Santa Cruz, all I need to do is take a walk downtown or along the ocean cliffs to get inspiration for the scenes in my books. And I try hard to make this glorious location play an important part in each of the books. For example, in the next in my series (Death al Fresco, spring 2018), Sally investigates the death of one of the old Italian fishermen who frequent the Santa Cruz Wharf, where her dad’s restaurant is located. As a result, descriptions of the hundred-year-old fishing wharf, and the characters and establishments along it, are vital to the story.


MT: What’s ahead for Sally Solari?

LK: As noted above, the next Sally Solari Mystery, Death al Fresco, will be published in early 2018. Inspired by the eye-popping canvases of Paul Gauguin, for whom Sally’s upscale restaurant is named, she convinces her ex-boyfriend/best pal Eric to enroll in a plein air painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when her dog, Buster, sniffs out a body entangled in a pile of kelp.

This next book focuses on the Italian fishing community in Santa Cruz, including the food and cooking favored by the “original sixty families” who emigrated there from Liguria in the 1890s.


MT: What’s ahead for you in your career?

LK: My plan is to continue writing the Sally Solari series, and I’m hoping that book number five will be the one about Hilo, Hawai’i and the body in the lava.


MT: How can readers contact you and learn about your books?

LK: Feel free to visit me at my author website or on Facebook!

Did I mention that Leslie’s mysteries are not only clever and suspenseful, they are also delicious? Besides clues and red herrings, the reader will find recipes from a master of the culinary arts. Here is a taste (pun intended) of what you will find in Leslie’s latest offering. I hope it whets your appetite for more.

A MEASURE OF MURDER, book two in the Sally Solari culinary mystery series (Crooked Lane Books).Measure Cover

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, she joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, 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 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?

“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.” Publishers Weekly starred review


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