Death al Fresco: A Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst (Crooked Lane Books, $26.99, 320 pages)
Death al Fresco is the third Sally Solari novel by Leslie Karst. When I first received the book to review and saw on the cover a plug that the book includes recipes, I was immediately skeptical. I was proven wrong. Death is a very enjoyable read and Karst manages to deliver a book that allows the reader to read it in big chunks because it breezes along nicely and sustains interest. Or one can elect to put it down for a while and return to it without having missed a beat.
Solari’s is an Italian restaurant owned by Sally’s father on Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, California. Much to her chagrin, she finds herself supporting her father’s endeavors more than she would care to. She dates a member of the District Attorney’s office and – in addition to her restaurant pursuits, takes up painting as a hobby.
Most importantly, Sally is an accomplished amateur sleuth, which comes in handy when Gino, a renowned Santa Cruz fisherman is found dead (by Sally’s dog) after an evening at Solari’s. Early in the novel, a local accuses her of being the next Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote), which, by the way her character is drawn is the exact analogy I had in mind while reading the story. The unfortunate death compromises a major event planned for the restaurant; an event for which Sally was the unwitting chief organizer.
Sally’s father becomes a suspect in the crime and in order to salvage both the restaurant and her father’s reputation, she becomes the chief busybody and lead investigator in Gino’s death. Sally is too sweet to be perceived as precocious, but just barely. She is far too nice to be disliked, even when she is covering up evidence. She is also, apparently, too cute to upset her boyfriend with all of her meddling. All of which somehow – and surprisingly – makes for a story that works extremely well.
There are various iterations of possibilities introduced as the circumstances of Gino’s death come to light, from his having imbibed too much before he dined at the restaurant, to an interest in his boat upon his death, and – which is perhaps a bit too much, to lead or copper poisoning. But in the end, Sally gets it right and the series should continue for at least a fourth novel.
At the conclusion of Death al Fresco, I was a satisfied reader as I put the book down. I think most readers will arrive at a similar verdict.
A review copy was provided by a publicist.
Dave Moyer is the chief administrator of a public school district in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.