Friday, April 5, 2024

Molten Death - An Interview, Review, & Giveaway

I'm happy to welcome Leslie Karst back to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Leslie writes the Orchid Island Mystery series. MOLTEN DEATH is the first book in the series and was released this week.

Kathy: MOLTEN DEATH is the first Orchid Island Mystery. What made you decide to start a new series?

LK: After finishing up A SENSE FOR MURDER, the sixth book in my Sally Solari mystery series, I came to the conclusion that I’d now pretty much told Sally’s story and was ready to move on to something new. I’d been living half time on the Big Island of Hawai‘i since 2007 (and making annual visits since 1990), and it struck me that it would be marvelous to set a series in this amazing place and bring it alive to those who’ve never had the chance to visit the state, or who have done so but would love to revisit via armchair traveling with my book.

Kathy: In MOLTEN DEATH we meet retired caterer Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen who are looking forward to enjoying the delicious food and vibrant culture of Hawai'i. What is your favorite Hawaiian delicacy?

LK: Oh, boy, such a hard question! If I had to pick only one, I think it would have to be poke (pronounced “poh-kay”), which is bite-size pieces of raw sushi-grade fish—often ahi tuna—mixed with seasonings such as soy or oyster sauce, sesame oil, seaweed, green onions, even sriracha-mayonnaise. It’s delicious! Poke is often served over steamed rice, but it goes great with crackers or tortilla chips, as well. (And yes, there’s a recipe for poke—three different kinds!—in MOLTEN DEATH.)

Kathy: Location can play an integral role in a mystery. What makes the “Orchid Island” the perfect setting for your series?

LK: For me, what that makes the Big Island so very special is the presence of two active volcanoes (three, if you count Hualālai, which looms over the tourist town of Kailua-Kona and last erupted in 1801—just yesterday, in geologic terms). This ongoing volcanic activity has shaped not only the island’s geology, flora, and fauna, but also the culture of the intrepid Polynesians who made the long voyage from the South Pacific to the archipelago by outrigger canoe some eight hundred years ago.

Living in a place where at any moment the land can tremble and shake and where molten rock can spew from the depths of the earth and come rushing down the mountain towards your village will have an enormous impact on how you view life. Dances, chants, and intonations to Pele with her streaming hair of fire become all important in an attempt to appease the volcano goddess and implore her to spare your family, your community, your land. Even today, inhabitants of the Big Island pay respect to Pele by leaving her offerings of gin and woven leis of ti intertwined with ‘ōhi‘a lehua blossoms along the rim of Kīlauea crater.

Which of course makes it the perfect location for a novel in which the protagonist witnesses a human leg being covered over by hot, molten rock and sets out to discover the mystery of the body in the lava!

Kathy: What's your favorite aspect of Hawaiian culture?

LK: The aloha spirit, which truly is a vital component of the culture of the Hawaiian islands.

Here’s a fun example: Shortly after my wife and I moved to Hilo, we were heading down the sidewalk near our home and spied a gang of teenage boys approaching us from the opposite direction. They were big, tall, and quite tough looking, jostling each other roughly as they walked. Expecting them to pass us by with gruff looks—or worse—we smiled nervously as they came near.

But what did they do? As one, every single boy smiled broadly and said to us in a friendly, melodic, high-pitched voice, “Hello aunty!”

Kathy: Valerie believes a murder has been committed, but she's the only witness to a now-vanished corpse. Have you ever seen something that no one else believed?

LK: I’ve certainly never seen a dead body out on a lava flow, thank goodness! Nor have I ever witnessed a ghost, or a man in a dark coat following me, or a UFO, or anything else that any one would have reason to disbelieve. So I guess my answer is no. Which is a good thing, because—as Valerie discovers in MOLTEN DEATH—it’s no fun at all to have folks not believe you when you know you saw something. Especially of that “thing” is a corpse....

Kathy: Was there a specific inspiration for this story?

LK: As I said above, I’ve luckily never seen a corpse being covered by hot lava, but I have heard tales of people using the flow as a way to hide bodies. Which makes a lot of sense, since once it’s been covered by hardened rock, no one is ever going to find that body again. So it was partly that, but also my fascination with and awe regarding volcanoes. Another story:

One of the most memorable experiences I ever had occurred during my first visit to the Big Island, when my volcano-junkie parents (yes, I come by it honestly)—who were spending several months on the island—took my partner (now wife) and me out for a pre-dawn hike to see the current lava flow. After walking for an hour or so over an arid, black landscape more reminiscent of the moon than of a tropical paradise, we saw a red glow and steam rising in the distance and cautiously approached. There at our feet was a gaping hole some ten feet wide that had opened up in the hardened rock.

It was a volcanic skylight: a view down into a lava tube in which a river of molten rock flowed immediately below us, its orange-white magma so bright that it was impossible to stare at for more than a moment. Frightened by the sight—and scalded by the searing-hot steam rising from the hole—we jumped back quickly. Would the rock we were standing upon crumble, too, and send us tumbling into the river of lava? But the sight proved far too compelling, and as one, the four of us crept forward once again to gaze in awe down into the fiery depths, below.

Kathy: When it comes to writing I understand there are 2 general camps-plotters, who diligently plot their stories, and pansters, who fly by the seat of their pants. Are you a plotter, a panster, or do you fall somewhere in between?

LK: I started out as a devout plotter, writing multi-page outlines before typing one word of my manuscript. But over the course of now seven published mysteries, I’ve shifted. I still do a fair amount of outlining—and I always know who did it, why, and what the inciting incident is that makes my protagonist take on the investigation—but I now allow myself to simply write, not always knowing exactly where it will take me. And I have to say, I’m sometimes surprised about where that is! Which makes the writing process that much more fun.

Kathy: Authors are required to do a lot of their own marketing, especially for a new release. What's your favorite part of marketing your work? What do you dislike about marketing?

LK: My favorite part is absolutely engaging with readers and other writers. The crime writing community is the most friendly, warm, and generous group of people I’ve ever had the good fortune to spend time with, and I treasure all of you!

The worse? Having to “sell” myself and my books. Ugh. It’s so very hard having to do what seems like bragging all the time in order to get publicity for your books. As a result, I am eternally grateful to anyone who does that bragging for me. Thank to all of you who review my—and others’—books or talk them up to your friends and on social media!

Kathy: Will you share any other upcoming books?

LK: I’m currently writing book two in the Orchid Isle mystery series, entitled WATERS OF DESTRUCTION. In this sequel to MOLTEN DEATH, my protagonist Valerie is hired as a bartender at the Speckled Gecko, where her pal Sachiko is the dining room manager. The guy she replaces has not shown up for work for several days, and everyone assumes he’s merely gone AWOL. But when his body is discovered in the Wailuku River (whose name means “waters of destruction”) and Sachiko becomes the prime suspect in his murder, Valerie steps in to help her friend and investigate. The only question is, can Valerie discover the identity of the real culprit before her customers learn that it’s more than Mai Tais she’s been serving up at the bar? 



MOLTEN DEATH by Leslie Karst
The First Orchid Isle Mystery

Their trip to Hawai'i was supposed to be a time to rest and relax, but that goes out the window when Valerie Corbin sees a body disappearing in the molten lava and neither her wife, Kristen, or friend Isaac seem to believe her. Witnessing that leg disappearing in the fiery lava reminds Valerie too much of the accident that recently killed her brother. After reading about a missing person and unable to get the horrific images out of her mind, she decides to start asking some questions. Although her preoccupation is causing a rift between her and Kirsten, Valerie needs answers. But will her push for the truth cause more harm than good?

MOLTEN DEATH is a truly unique mystery. Technically, there is no crime, so there’s no police involvement. Valerie sees a leg that is engulfed by lava before anyone else sees it. While readers believe her, everyone else is doubtful. Before she can even suggest foul play, Valerie deems it imperative to find out to whom the leg, and presumably body, belonged. The novel is a mix between Valerie trying to identify the body and determining what happened to it, relaxing and enjoying the sites and food of Hawai'i, and dealing with relationship issues along with the aftermath of the accident that killed her brother.

While I truly appreciate the Hawaiian spellings and use of Pidgin, trying to mentally pronounce everything tended to be a distraction, if not taking me out of the story then slowing the pacing to a crawl. That being said, I loved the information provided, especially the reasoning behind speaking Pidgin and the ability some people have to easily switch between that and standard English. One of my favorite aspects of the book was all the knowledge that was shared, from the various sites, cultural aspects, food, and weather!

MOLTEN DEATH is an appealing entry to the Orchid Island Mystery series with diverse characters, an exotic setting, and a compelling story. There are also plenty of great foodie descriptions with recipes included at the end of the book.


 Molten Death (An Orchid Isle Mystery) by Leslie Karst

About Molten Death

Molten Death (An Orchid Isle Mystery)
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Setting - the Big Island of Hawai‘i
Publisher: ‎ Severn House (April 2, 2024)
Hardcover: ‎ 224 pages

A glimpse of a quickly melting corpse at the foot of a volcano has amateur sleuth and food enthusiast Valerie Corbin shocked. But how can she investigate a murder, when there's no evidence the victim ever existed?

The first Orchid Isle cozy mystery, set in tropical Hilo, Hawai'i, introduces a fun and feisty LGBTQ+ couple who swap surfing lessons for sleuthing sessions!

Retired caterer Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen have come to the Big Island of Hawai'i to treat themselves to a well-earned tropical vacation. After the recent loss of her brother, Valerie is in sore need of a distraction from her troubles and is looking forward to enjoying the delicious food and vibrant culture the state has to offer.

Early one morning, the couple and their friend - tattooed local boy, Isaac - set out to see an active lava flow, and Valerie is mesmerized by the shape-shifting mass of orange and red creeping over the field of black rock. Spying a boot in the distance, she strides off alone, pondering how it could have gotten there, only to realize to her horror that the boot is still attached to a leg - a leg which is slowly being engulfed by the hot lava.

Valerie's convinced a murder has been committed - but as she's the only witness to the now-vanished corpse, who's going to believe her?

Determined to prove what she saw, and get justice for the unknown victim, Valerie launches her own investigation. But, thrown into a Hawaiian culture far from the luaus and tiki bars of glossy tourist magazines, she soon begins to fear she may be the next one to end up entombed in shiny black rock . . .

The amiable characters, stunning backdrop and culinary delights make this the perfect cozy of fans who enjoy a tropical vacation with a twisty murder mystery and compelling Hawai'ian culture - paired with an added bonus of recipes of local Hawai'ian dishes!


About Leslie Karst

In addition to Molten Death, Leslie Karst is the author of the Lefty Award-nominated Sally Solari mystery series and Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, the Law, and Cooking for RBG. After years waiting tables and singing in a new wave rock band, she decided she was ready for a “real” job and ended up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as an attorney 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, observing cocktail hour promptly at five o’clock, and of course writing. She and her wife split their time between Santa Cruz, California and Hilo, Hawai‘i.

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  1. I think this sounds wonderful! I haven't been to Hawaii but everyone I know who has, absolutely loves it. I love learning about different cultures and the real story, not just the pretty touristy areas. I look forward too reading it.

    1. I learned so much from this book, while having fun reading it too.