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by Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane Books, March 2018
325 pages
ISBN: 1683315324

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"It was creepy how dead people seemed to be following me around," Sally Solari

remarks, at the beginning of Leslie Karst's DEATH AL FRESCO, the third in her series.

Sally's dog Buster has unearthed a body while Sally is in her plein air painting class on the beach. She and her ex-boyfriend, now best friend Eric are taking the class for a little relaxation, but we should have known there is no rest for the wicked. Sally recognizes the body as Gino, a frequent diner at the father's restaurant, Solari's.

Sally has finally managed to stop working at Solari's, now that she has her own restaurant, Gauguin, with her dream chef, Javier, who cooks French Polynesian dishes although he hails from Michoacan. But Dad has roped her back in to help him serve a banquet for Santa Cruz's sister city, Sestri Levante in Italy. The mayor and her entourage are to be feted in a giant tent on the wharf, to celebrate Santa Cruz's founding by 60 families from Liguria and their descendants.

Gino had left Solari's several nights ago, drunken and reeling down the wharf with a mysterious woman named Anastasia. He hasn't been seen since. To make matters worse, Sally's dad is one of the suspects; so much for separating from her dad's restaurant.

So Sally is back, against her will, at sleuthing, to save her father's neck. The suspects begin to pile up as the banquet gets closer and the painting classes help Sally to a better understanding of Paul Gauguin's use of color. Has Gino secretly married Anastasia?; does Gino's sidekick have a motive?; has Gino's old friend Angelo got a reason to turf him in the water?

Leslie Karst manages to weave the many strands of this story into a compelling narrative. Moving from restaurant to restaurant, hunting at the last minute for a tent, painting with gouache, biking around Santa Cruz and walking and caring for Buster seems like enough to take on. Sally manages to keep all these balls in the air until Javier suggests he might jump ship and start his own restaurant.

Things go from bad to worse for poor Sally, until she has an encounter with the murderer that almost kills her.

But Sally is clearly a survivor and she manages to solve the crime, to sleuth another day, we can only hope. The novel ends with some recipes, confirming that this is a "culinary" cosy. Spinach Salad With Orange, Fennel and Black Olives, from Solari's, sounds so good that I'm going to go out and buy the ingredients and serve it for dinner tonight!

Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, March 2018

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