Molten Death

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Pub Date 2 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 31 Mar 2024

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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!

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...

Advance Praise

Molten Death is one hot ticket with a gorgeous yet deadly setting, a tenacious amateur sleuth, and a real head scratcher of a mystery. Karst delivers a compelling read that will enlighten, engage, and entertain, leaving readers longing for their next trip to the Orchid Isle.”
–Jenn McKinlay, New York Times bestselling author

“As mysterious as a Hilo rain, fragrant as lychee, melodious as Hawaiian pidgin, and tasty as loco moco, Leslie Karst’s Molten Death transports the reader to the best that the Big Island can offer. You won’t want to leave!”
Naomi Hirahara, USA Today bestselling and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of Clark and Division and Iced in Paradise

“In Molten Death, Leslie Karst takes a suspenseful dive into the Hawai‘i tourists don’t see, introducing engaging protagonist Valerie Corbin and the fascinating, quirky island community she learns to love. And of course there is delicious food! This is a terrific debut to a series that will go on my must read list!”
–Deborah Crombie, New York Times bestselling author of A Killing of Innocents

“With its compelling characters and engaging look at the culture and customs of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Molten Death is a delightfully immersive whodunnit. Fans of well-plotted, suspenseful mysteries with a foodie element will eat this one up!”
–Kate Carlisle, New York Times bestselling author the Bibliophile and Fixer-Upper mysteries

“In Molten Death, Leslie Karst’s passion and personal connection to Hawai‘i shine on every page. She’s created a heroine you’ll adore and a mystery that’s both touching and twisty. I loved it!”
–Ellen Byron, USA Today bestselling author

“A clever premise sets this mystery apart, but it’s the chill island vibes, local traditions, and captivating couple, Valerie and Kristen, that will keep readers coming back.”
–Rob Osler, author of Anthony Award finalist Devil’s Chew Toy

Molten Death is one hot ticket with a gorgeous yet deadly setting, a tenacious amateur sleuth, and a real head scratcher of a mystery. Karst delivers a compelling read that will enlighten, engage...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781448312160
PRICE US$29.99 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

Karst’s novel is a fun cozy that is heavy on Hawaii and light on violence. The amateur sleuth, Valerie, was fun to follow with her varied interests in food, people, and culture. I was rooting for her from the beginning when people didn’t believe she saw someone’s body disappear in lava because, sorry, that’s too crazy to make up! I also liked that she and Kristen (her wife) have a long-established, healthy relationship. It doesn’t have to be dwelled on that they’re lesbians in love; their care for each other is evident in their actions. Likewise, their relationship shows that even healthy relationships aren’t “perfect.” If anything, I wish Kristen had been involved more in the actual mystery solving.

The inclusion of both recipes of food mentioned in the book and translations for pidgin used in the book at the very end of the ARC (and I assume the final version of the novel) were also lovely and showed how much research had gone into Karst’s work.

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Immersion in Hawaiian culture--particularly that of the Big Island of Hawaii--is really the star of the first in a new mystery series by Leslie Karst. I found it quite interesting to learn about diverse local topics such as island history, lush nature, water sports, language, customs, politics, and (ah, yes!) food. The author helpfully provides a glossary of both Hawaiian and Pidgin terms at the end of the book, although I felt there was enough context to figure it out on my own. I was surprised to learn that even well educated islanders may choose to speak Pidgin around the other locals. I also found it fascinating how residents are resigned to living so close to active volcanoes, where in some areas they might have to evacuate at a moment's notice.

The mystery here begins with the main characters--one of a pair of middle-aged women vacationing in Hawaii after she has lost her brother in a tragic accident-spots a shoe and the foot inside it being swallowed up by an active lava flow and is determined to find out who it was and how it happened. She encounters some situations that are polarizing the locals but it is a low-key investigation with almost no action or violence.

The fact that Karst lives part-time each year in Hawaii and has both a law degree and culinary school certificate lends authenticity to the story and the setting. And there are some delicious-sounding recipes to savor.

My thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review of this book.

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I love cozies and I love learning more about different cultures, so yes to this book. Valerie is observant and aware of her surroundings but nobody believes her when she says she sees a body in lava, and nobody really wants to follow up on the report of the missing man. There were tidbits about the culture and the geography, with just enough action and humor to satisfy.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this.

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Molten Death is a quick and entertaining cozy mystery, with a lovely bonus of super yummy-sounding recipes at the end. Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen are in Hawai'i to celebrate Valerie's upcoming 60th birthday and also provide a welcome distraction from Valerie's grief over the recent death of her brother. 

While exploring a volcano early one morning, Valerie sees someone -- or more accurately, their boot and part of their leg -- being consumed by lava. Who was it? How did they end up in the lava? And, in the absence of proof, how can Valerie even convince authorities that someone was actually killed?

The mystery was pretty good. Valerie's investigation takes her to lots of potential leads: a men's hula class, a small-time pot dealer, and even a minor foray into a spate of recent avocado thefts! There's also an ongoing dispute between local residents and an industrial developer who wants to build more plants, and a local advocacy group inspired by stories of the goddess Pele. I actually found the big reveal to be really sad. And perhaps a testament to how I'll never be a detective myself, I wasn't fond that Valerie used a suspect's naivete (okay, stupidity) in a vulnerable moment to get their surname and contact info for the police. I get it; justice must be done. But man, that felt rather cold.

Honestly, I also really wish I were a scientist or at least had more scientific knowledge (seismology? geology? volcano-logy?). Even more than the actual whodunnit, the natural environs of Hawai'i loomed large in this novel. An earthquake added to a tension as Valerie and Kristen looked for clues, and full-scale natural disaster set the scene for the climactic big reveal. (I'm not sure what happened exactly, but there was lava and boiling water and fissures appearing in the ground, and some residents were unfortunately displaced as a result.) Are such events really so common in Hawai'i?! (Near the end, Valerie and Kristen's Hawai'ian friend teases them about the timing of their visit, because a disaster of that scale last happened decades ago, so I'm hoping the author just played up these elements for dramatic effect.)

Beyond that, I really enjoyed Valerie as a series lead. I love that she turns sixty in this novel; I see so many cozy mysteries starring women in their 20s or early 30s and it's awesome seeing a sixty-year-old woman solving murders in her retirement. More 60-year-olds in cozy mysteries, please and thank you!


Thank you to Severn House for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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MOLTEN DEATH is the first book in the brand-new Orchid Isle Mystery series by Leslie Karst. Set against the lush backdrop of Hawaii and the terrifying ferocity of an active volcano, the author brings the setting to life through her vivid descriptive voice. You can feel the heat of the lava flow, smell the tropical flowers, taste the fresh papaya, and see the glorious beauty of the crashing waves. I also love that the protagonist, Valerie Corbin, and her wife, Kristen, are retirement-age women. It brings a maturity to the storyline and (I hate to admit it) more relatable to my age group. They’re both inquisitive, active, and full of life instead of the stereotypical ‘sitting in a rocking chair knitting’ at their age. Ms. Karst also captures the Hawaiian culture and politics. It’s obvious she’s done her research and, from her author’s note and “about” at the back of the book, lives part-time in Hilo, Hawaii, which gives her an insider’s view of the residents. I appreciated the Hawaiian and Pidgin (a mixture of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino) words and phrases provided, although she expertly crafts her sentences so that the meaning is perfectly clear while reading the story, without slowing down the pace.

The plotline is clever: how can you prove a murder happened when only the protagonist saw a foot and a leg devoured by flowing lava? And any clues left behind by the perpetrator are non-existent because of the destructive lava as well. Most people, including her wife, don’t believe Valerie when she claims she saw a body. Yet her tenacity, despite only being a visitor to the island, has her digging up information and uncovering secrets that people would rather remain hidden. There were clues to follow and a few suspects to keep me guessing. The story kept me engrossed, and I had a hard time putting the book down when other obligations called. By the conclusion of the book, I was ready to book a vacation to the islands and ready to read the next in the series!

There are also several tempting Hawaiian recipes included at the back of the book for the home cook to try out.

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