Molten Death

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Pub Date 02 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

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ISBN 9781448312160
PRICE $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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Leslie Karst's latest series debut, Molten Death, offers readers a captivating journey into the heart of Hawai'i, blending rich cultural immersion with an intriguing murder mystery. From the tantalizing flavors of Hawaiian cuisine to the enchanting rhythms of the hula dance, Karst's narrative paints a vivid portrait of the tropical paradise.

The story explores not only the mystery at hand but also the complexities of Valerie and Kristen's relationship, strained by the recent loss of Valerie's brother. As Valerie struggles to convince others of what she's seen, including her skeptical wife, tensions mount, threatening to unravel their bond. Yet, amidst the turmoil, their journey becomes one of reconciliation and renewed connection, adding depth and emotional resonance to the narrative.

Karst masterfully weaves together Valerie's determined sleuthing with the couple's explorations of Hawai'i's diverse landscapes and cultural landmarks. Whether delving into tourist hotspots or uncovering hidden gems off the beaten path, each excursion offers a glimpse into the island's vibrant scenes, enriching the reader's experience.

While the story delivers on many fronts, I found the resolution of the murder mystery to be somewhat predictable, with the killer's motive feeling clichéd.

Nevertheless, Molten Death marks a promising start to Leslie Karst's cozy mystery series, offering a tantalizing blend of suspense, romance, and cultural immersion that's left me eagerly waiting for the next installment.

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MOLTEN DEATH by Leslie Karst

I’m so glad my own trips to Hawai’i have been more peaceful, but this twisty plot makes for a very interesting adventure. Who was that body lost in the lava flow and how did it happen? Everyone seems to think Valerie imagined the boot with green laces that disappeared before she could even get a photo, but she can’t get it out of her mind until she solves the mystery. Despite dangers and disruption of the relaxing vacation with her wife, she persists in seeking clues, meeting people who might be friends and allies or might be murderers . . . how to tell?
Besides the satisfying plot, there are descriptions of the island’s beauty, culture, and food . . . so sumptuous that I was tempted, again, to think about moving there. Oh, and there are recipes, which for me are also fiction, but delicious to think about. This is a “put everything else on hold and lose sleep” book, a delight!

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In this series debut, Valerie Corbin and her wife Kristen are in Hawaii's Big Island to heal after the recent loss of her brother. During an early morning visit to an active lava flow, Valerie is shocked to see a boot attached to a leg being engulfed by the hot lava. But Kristen & their local friend Isaac don't believe her. Determined to identify the victim, Valerie starts snooping. Talking to locals sends Valerie in different directions but it's a good distraction until she ends up confronting the killer.

This is a promising start with stunning island sights, local superstitions & plenty of yummy local Hawaiian dishes.

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and Severn House. All opinions are my own.

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Cozy mystery with great Hawai‘i atmosphere
This was a very pleasant surprise. I picked up this cozy mystery by an author I didn‘t know because it was set on Hawai‘i - and I have fond memories of visiting the islands. And the book fully delivers on the setting: totally authentic, starting with the rain pouring down in Hilo. I had a good chuckle when the mature female couple (Valerie and Kristen) vacationing there was totally taken by surprise by the amount of rain necessary to fuel the tropical paradise. I loved the food, the insertion of lava flows and eruptions, the island pidgin and of course the marvelous hula.
The cozy mystery is embedded into all this and amateur sleuth Valerie who just retired doggedly tries to discovers whose leg and boot vanished before her eyes in an active lava flow. Given that Valerie and Kristen are on vacation and their quirky friend, Isaac, has lots of great ideas about what to do on Big Island the mystery takes at times a backseat. But Hawai‘i is showcased front and center - so no complaints about this enjoyable read at all.

I received an ARC via netgalley. The review is left voluntarily.

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The author knows Hawaii well encapsulating all that we know of the island in presenting this well-written, well-researched, and well-executed drama, where the beauty of the island is the backdrop. This book immediately grabbed my attention from the discovery of the body part in the lava, and I couldn’t put the book down until all was said and done. Valerie was determined to uncover the truth, especially when no one believed what she saw. Her persistence pays off in other ways which kept me engaged in all that was happening with the residents and potential suspects. The mystery was nicely done with a few red herrings that kept me in the game. The pacing was on par with how well this story was being told. Leslie delivered an enticing whodunit with panache, a good start to the series, and I look forward to more exploits with Valerie, Kristen, and their friends. Bonus, delectable recipes.

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Molten Death by Leslie Karst is a superb start to a new, cozy mystery series.

Will Valerie figure out whose body she saw in the lava?

Valerie Corbin
Our sleuth is Valerie. She and her wife, Kristen, are on vacation in Hawaii. Valerie is still grieving the death of her younger brother in their home state of California. Kristen is worried about Valerie. She hopes that this vacation will help Valerie return to her old self. They will be celebrating Valerie's 60th birthday while there.

At first, I didn't care for Valerie, but after reading her point of view for the entire book, I started liking her. She wants to be herself, but she also wants respect and love. Valerie is having a hard time opening up to her wife about her grief. Being in a new place with no memories of her brother helps a bit.

The Mystery
While visiting the lava fields early one morning, as the others hike away, Valerie sees a boot and a leg being smothered by the lava. She is curious, but it also brings her back to her brother's death. However, Kristen and their friend don't really believe that what Valerie saw was a body. Now, nothing is left, so no one can know what Valerie saw.

The whole sleuthing starts out as Valerie trying to prove that she isn't losing her mind. She saw what she saw, and she is going to find a way to prove it.

Four Stars
I enjoyed Ms. Karst's writing style and the setting. It did feel as though Valerie and her friends were fascinated by the lava. That seems a bit weird to me. However, I still like the story that she was telling with Valerie moving forward. My rating for Molten Death by Leslie Karst is five stars. I do recommend this book to all the cozy mystery readers out there.

There are a few recipes at the end of the book. They are Val's Mai Tai, Poke Three Ways, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad with Papaya-Yogurt Dressing, Miso-Sesame Chicken, Kalua Pork, and Papay Chutney. There is also a glossary of Hawaiian and Pidgin words and phrases.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Thank you for dropping by! I hope you enjoyed this review of Molten Death by Leslie Karst.

Until the next time,

If you would like to see other reviews like this one, check out Baroness Book Trove.

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A well researched cozy mystery starring a retired foodie lesbian in beautiful Hawai'i.

You can tell that the author is very well acquainted with the island, and has done their research because the nuance and culture of the island shines through in this book. As the first book in what looks to be a series, there are often groan moments getting the main character to start sleuthing that I am happy to say never happen in this book. The plot flows organically as we follow Valerie try to find out more about the mysterious body she saw disappear. The plot was also more than just the typical cozy with layers about the political complexities of Hawai'i, Valerie dealing with a great deal of PTSD from a recent death, as well as looks at the local cuisine and culture of the different groups on the island.

A great cozy that also delivers on food and culture.

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A nice start to a potential new series. Valerie and her wife Kristin are meant to be on vacation on Hawaii but no.....Valerie sees a man enveloped by lava. Or did she? She's convinced there was someone and that the person was murdered so she investigates. I liked this for the local color - the food, the rain, the scenery-and for the mature characters. Karst is an experienced cozy writer who knows how to keep you guessing. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. A good read.

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MOLTEN DEATH (An Orchid Island Mystery Book #1) by Leslie Karst is an entertaining cozy mystery featuring a retired lesbian foodie protagonist set on the lush, big island of Hawaii with beautiful descriptions of island locations and delicious island fare. This is a delightful new amateur sleuth who happens upon a murder in paradise written by a new to me author who has me hooked.

Valerie Corbin and her wife, Kristen have come to Hawaii for a vacation to hopefully reconnect and mentally heal after Valerie’s car accident in which she watched her brother die. They are staying with Kristen’s Island native friend, Isaac. When they go to watch the sunrise and walk on a lava field, Valerie falls behind and sees a boot in the distance that she goes to investigate and discovers it is in a lava flow and attached to a leg that is quickly disappearing.

Valerie is convinced a murder has been committed, but she has no proof now that the lava has done its job of destroying the evidence. Even though no one believes her, she is determined to discover who is missing and get justice for them.

I enjoyed Valerie and her sense of determination even when it gets her in trouble. While she investigates, the reader gets to follow her to many beautifully written scenic destinations on the island and gets to read descriptions of tropical and local island cuisine. I also liked that the Valerie and her wife were mature characters. Isaac is the perfect bridge between the white women and Hawaiian native culture, history (both past and present), and cuisine. The plot is unique with the lava destroying any evidence and causing everyone to question whether Valerie saw the leg and boot even as she questions the suspects. A good ending with everything tied up in the end and Valerie and Kristen considering a permanent move to the big island.

Overall a delightful cozy mystery that also delivers on beautiful geography, culture, and cuisine.

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