Note: I shared a Spotlight for this novella during the Great Escapes blog tour, but thought it best to wait on my review, as I would probably not give this the requisite 3 stars, if I gave star, which I don't :D
Title: Out of Options (Century Cottage Mysteries prequel novella)
Author: Dianne Ascroft
Publication Info: April 2019, 126 pages. Contains novella and bonus short story "City Sunsets."
Source: Great Escapes Blog Tours
Out of Options is a prequel novella to the Century Cottage Cozy
Mysteries series, and introduces Lois Stone and her companions, Raggs
and Ribbons, a pair of perceptive calico cats.
A dry district, a
shocking secret, a missing person. When Lois Stone’s friend, Beth
Darrow, arranges to meet her to reveal an astonishing discovery, Lois’s
curiosity is piqued. Then Beth doesn’t keep their lunch date and Lois
becomes worried. What has happened to her friend?
widow Lois is settling into life on her own in her neighbourhood and in
the library where she works, and she is just about coping with her fear
of strangers after her husband was mugged and died in the park at the
end of their street. But her quiet existence is rocked when her friend
and fellow local historical society researcher, Beth, arranges to meet
her to reveal an exciting and shocking discovery she has made about the
history of prohibition in West Toronto Junction, the last dry area in
Toronto, and then goes missing before she can share her secret with
Lois. There isn’t any proof that Beth is missing so the police won’t
actively search for her. Only Lois and Beth’s niece Amy are convinced
that Beth’s disappearance is very out of character, and they are worried
about her. Where has Beth gone? Is she in danger? And, if she is, who
might want to harm her and why? Lois knows she must find the answers to
these questions fast if she wants to help and protect her friend.
so begins a weekend of skulking in the park, apple and cinnamon
pancakes, familiar faces staring out of old newspapers, calico cats,
shadows on the windowpane, and more than one person who might want Beth
to disappear from the quiet, leafy streets of the historic and staunchly
dry West Toronto Junction neighbourhood.
A tale for fans of Cindy Bell, Leighann Dobbs, Dianne Harman and Kathi Daley.
The novella, Out of Options, comes
with a bonus short story ("City Sunsets"), and between the two of them,
they provide the background for the Century Cottage series, explaining why Lois moves to a small town. I enjoyed the clearly evoked
sense of place in the descriptions of Toronto, though I understand why Lois wants to leave. The author's interest in
history also sets a positive note.
story ("City Sunsets") isn't intended to be a mystery, and is a well-put-together story
fleshing out some of what we already learned from the novella. Out of Options,
however, is a mystery and demonstrates the challenges of writing
mysteries in the short form. The problem is well designed and we have
both an appropriate sense of urgency and a good reason why the police
aren't solving the problem (which, come to think of it, is an advantage
of having a mystery without a murder--less need for the police). The
snag is that I found the answer a bit obvious, and felt like the main
character had to willfully ignore obvious clues to avoid a too-easy
solution to the crime. Nor was the motive wholly creditable.
Despite that negative, and a
couple of inconsistencies (Lois has been depicted as enjoying her walks
to and from work, but in the final chapter she talks about how unsafe
she feels in the city since her husband was killed, how she is unable even to go certain places), the book is an
engaging read, and will answer a lot of questions for readers of A Timeless Celebration. The writing was generally sound, and as noted, the author does a good job of evoking the setting.
give this a "maybe" recommendation for a summer read. I'm not sure if
it's the best way into the series, or if it's better to read A Timeless Celebration and approach this one when you want to know more of Lois's history.
FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Out of Options from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."