Mystery Monday: Out of Options review

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

Publisher's Blurb:

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?

Middle-aged 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.

And 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.

My Review:
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.

The short 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.

My Recommendation:
I'll 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."  


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