Meet Leslie

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned at a young age, during boisterous family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries, a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California.

Originally from Southern California, Leslie moved north to attend UC Santa Cruz (home of the Fighting Banana Slugs), and after graduation, parlayed her degree in English literature into employment waiting tables and singing in a new wave rock band. Exciting though this life was, she eventually decided she was ready for a “real” job, and ended up at Stanford Law School.

For the next twenty years Leslie worked as the research and appellate attorney for Santa Cruz’s largest civil law firm. During this time, she rediscovered a passion for food and cooking, and so once more returned to school—this time to earn a degree in Culinary Arts.

Now retired from the law, Leslie—along with her wife and their Jack Russell mix, Ziggy—splits her time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. When not writing, she occupies herself with cooking, reading, singing alto in the local community chorus, gardening, cycling, and observing cocktail hour promptly at five o’clock.

To learn more about Leslie and her books, visit her website at

Coming April 4th!

Justice is Served:

A Tale of Scallops, the Law, and Cooking for RBG

She Writes Press

Justice final coverIn this true-life Julie and Julia-meets-Notorious RBG mash-up, former attorney Leslie Karst recounts how finagling her way into hosting an intimate dinner party for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sends her on a journey of culinary and personal discovery—and, ultimately, completely changes her life.

When Leslie learned that her offer to cook dinner for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her renowned tax law professor husband, Marty, had been accepted, she was thrilled—and terrified. A small-town lawyer who hated her job and had taken up cooking as a way to add a bit of spice to the daily grind of pumping out billable hours, she had never before thrown such a high-stakes dinner party. Could she really pull this off?

Justice is Served is Karst’s light-hearted, earnest account of the journey this unexpected challenge launched her on—starting with a trip to Paris for culinary inspiration, and ending with the dinner itself. Along the way, she imparts details of Ginsburg’s transformation from a young Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn, to one of the most celebrated Supreme Court justices in our nation’s history, and shares recipes for the mouthwatering dishes she came up with as she prepared for the big night. But this memoir isn’t simply a tale of prepping for and cooking dinner for the famous RBG; it’s also about how this event, and all the planning and preparation that went into it, created a new sort of connection between Karst, her partner, and her parents, and also inspired Karst to make life changes that would reverberate far beyond one dinner party. A heartfelt story of simultaneously searching for delicious recipes and purpose in life, Justice is Served is an inspiring reminder that it’s never too late to discover—and follow—your deepest passion.

“Home chefs and Ginsburg fans will find this culinary adventure exquisitely delectable.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This book is a romp from cover to cover—and, just like a great meal, left me ready for more.” – Karen Shimizu, executive editor, Food & Wine

The Sally Solari Culinary Mysteries

Dying For a Taste (Book 1)
Crooked Lane Books

After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her father run his old-style Italian eatery out on the historic Santa Cruz Wharf. But managing the dining room at Solari’s is far from her dream of running her own kitchen.

Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, her trendy Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is astounded to learn she has inherited the place. But when the Gauguin sous chef is accused of the crime, Sally finds herself delving into the unfamiliar world of organic and sustainable farming—not to mention a few buried family secrets—to try to clear his name. And as her list of suspects grows, Sally begins to realize that, as Gauguin’s new owner, she may be the next one on the killer’s list.

“Karst’s smart, engaging characters steal the show in this razor-sharp new food series.” – Booklist

A Measure of Murder (Book 2)
Crooked Lane Books

Sally Solari’s plate is beyond full between juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for Gauguin, the restaurant she’s just inherited. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins a chorus performing a newly discovered version of the sublime Mozart Requiem. But 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 seasoned 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 when 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.” –Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Death Al Fresco (Book 3)
Crooked Lane Books

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, Buster, 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. Witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, but his waitress swears the old man had only two beers with his meal. And then the fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing an inebriated customer 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 the tall order of clearing her father’s name.

  • Lefty Award nominee, Best Humorous Mystery

“Another killer of a culinary cozy murder… [With] the gorgeous setting and strong, unique characters, this really is a solid mystery.” – Long and Short Reviews (4 stars)

Murder From Scratch (Book 4)
Crooked Lane Books

Murder from Scratch coverSanta Cruz restaurateur Sally Solari’s life is already boiling over as she deals with irate cooks and other staffing issues at the busy Gauguin restaurant. The rainy December weather isn’t cooling things down, either. So she’s steamed when her dad persuades her to take in Evelyn, her estranged blind cousin whose mother has just died of a drug overdose.

But Evelyn proves to be lots of fun and she’s a terrific cook. Back at the house she’d shared with her mom, Evelyn’s heightened sense of touch tells her that various objects―a bottle of cranberry juice, her grandfather’s jazz records―are out of place. She and her mom always kept things in the same place so Evelyn could find them. So she suspects that her mother’s death was neither accident nor suicide, no matter what the police believe.

The cousins’ sleuthing takes Sally and Evelyn into the world of macho commercial kitchens, and the cutthroat competitiveness that can flame up between chefs. In Leslie Karst’s scrumptious fourth Sally Solari mystery, Sally will have to chop a long list of suspects down to size or end up getting burned.

  • Lefty Award nominee, Best Humorous Mystery

“Karst’s lively fourth [Sally Solari] whodunit…is cover-to-cover fun for culinary cozy fans.” – Publishers Weekly

The Fragrance of Death (Book 5)
Severn House

The Fragrance of Death cover Sally Solari is a champion, both in the kitchen and on the case, but after getting mixed up in one too many murders, she’s noticed her nonna’s friends have now taken to crossing themselves when they see her in the street. Adding to her woes, a sinus infection has knocked out her sense of smell, making cooking on the hot line difficult, indeed. Nevertheless, Sally is determined to stay out of trouble and focus on her work.

But then her old acquaintance Neil Lerici is murdered at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off, and Sally’s powers of investigation are called into action once more. Could Neil have been killed by the local restaurant owner who took his winning spot at the competition? Or maybe by one of his siblings, who were desperate to sell the family farm to a real estate developer?

Sally plunges headfirst into the case, risking alienating everyone she knows—including the dapper Detective Vargas, who finds her sleuthing both infuriating and endearing. But soon it’s not only Sally’s restaurant and tentative new relationship that are on the line—it’s her life . . .

“This well-done culinary cozy should win new fans for the ever enterprising Sally.” – Publishers Weekly

“…a funny, feisty heroine, Italian family drama, a charming coastal California town, and clues tangled up like a plate of spaghetti carbonara.” – Lucy Burdette, author of the Key West Food Critic mysteries

“Karst provides a mystery that rings true and features several unexpected twists.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…a very well-crafted murder mystery story…. The atmosphere of Santa Cruz, California is set so well that I sometimes felt I could almost hear the surf and smell the salt air.” – MyShelf Reviews

“Foodies and fans of cozy mysteries will both love the latest installment in Karst’s series…With this intricately plotted mystery, Karst draws the reader further into Sally’s engaging and often amusing world.” –  Booklist

Available in bookstores and online:

Bookshop Santa Cruz | IndieBound |  Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books A Million | PRH