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 neighborhood 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.
When you mention a cozy mystery novel, one of the first things readers wonder is how was the victim killed? Readers assume that there must be a murder in a cozy mystery. But, does it have to have happen? I don’t think so. One of the definitions http://www.dictionary.com gives for ‘mystery’ is: ‘a novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end.’ The definition doesn’t say that the crime must be murder. There’s lots of other crimes committed besides murder. To name just a few, there’s theft, assault, forgery, kidnapping, identity theft, bribery and blackmail. No one dies in Out of Options, the prequel novella to my Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. But someone goes missing and her friends and family are frantic with worry about her. Where has she gone? And why? That’s what everyone wants to know and that’s where the story begins. A mystery short story, novella or novel is a journey from the point where something unexpected or unexplained happens to the point when the main character finds an explanation for the occurrence. It’s a journey that readers embark on with the main character. As they trek along the route of this journey, readers try to solve the puzzle and race to do so before the main character. In Out of Options the question is what has happened to the woman who disappeared. In another story the question might be who stole a valuable item or who is creating forged artwork or who is blackmailing a victim. There’s lots of possibilities and any of them could be the basis for a mystery novel. It isn’t always necessary to ponder what fate befell a dead body that the main character has discovered. During the journey readers meet the characters. Middle-aged librarian Lois Stone is the main character in Out of Options. She is quiet, dependable and trustworthy with firm standards. I wanted her to be believable rather than larger than life: someone readers will like and relate to since they will spend lots of time with her throughout the series. Her struggle with grief after the death of her husband, and her determination not to retreat from life, despite her shyness, are challenges that I think will resonate with many readers. Although she is quiet, she has a dry sense of humour and her caring towards others shines through her somewhat muted exterior. Lois’s best friend Marge Kirkwood makes her first appearance in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series toward the end of Out of Options. Marge is Lois’s opposite: confident and outgoing. The middle-aged divorcee has left Toronto and returned to Fenwater, her home town, to keep an eye on her elderly mother but she hasn’t settled down to a quiet life. She’s a dyed-blond social butterfly and everyone in town knows and likes her. She and Lois worked together at the library in Toronto and they have been friends for years. Although she has moved out of Toronto, she still supports her friend. She is Lois’s shoulder to cry on and a rock to steady her friend in a crisis. She also ensures that Lois’s life is never dull. Readers also meet the main character’s pets who often are integral to the story. Lois has two calico cats who are protective toward her and are more knowledgeable and cunning than you would expect an animal to be. As the series continues, readers will get to know them well. When readers pick up a mystery novel, they begin a journey to solve a puzzle, but along the way there’s also time to explore more than just the mystery. As readers get to know the main characters, they learn about their worries and struggles: challenges in their jobs or in dealing with family and friends, and all the other things that are going on in their lives. They may also get a glimpse into the main character’s love life and experience the thrill of a budding romance or the satisfaction of a comfortable long term partnership. In Out of Options, Lois is widowed and learning to live life on her own after her husband’s sudden death. Her loss impacts on every area of her life and she has to gather her courage to continue living. It’s a rare traveller who doesn’t notice their surroundings on a journey. Cozy mystery readers discover the neighbourhood, town or city where the story happens. I think one of the things that draws readers to a cozy mystery is a setting that appeals to them. It’s important that the place where the story is set beckons readers to step in and stay a while. In Out of Options I evoke the history-laden library where Lois works right down to the well-worn librarian’s desk where she sits so that readers get a sense of how connected she feels to the place. I also give readers a peek at the tranquil, sun-dappled neighbourhood streets shaded by mature trees and the bustling main thoroughfare crowded with small shops and the odd house dotted between them where Lois searches for her missing friend. There’s much more happening along the journey through a cozy mystery than only solving the puzzle or discovering who committed the crime. So much, in fact, that the reader can be fully engaged with the story even without a murder. Cozy mysteries are much more than a murder case to solve.
About the Author
Dianne Ascroft is a Torontonian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals.
She is currently writing the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Out of Options is a prequel to the series.
Her previous fiction works include The Yankee Years series of novels and short reads, set in Northern Ireland during the Second World War; An Unbidden Visitor (a tale inspired by Fermanagh’s famous Coonian ghost); Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves: A Collection of Short Stories (contemporary tales), and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, which explores Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross humanitarian endeavour.
Dianne writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her articles and short stories have been printed in Canadian and Irish magazines and newspapers. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music.
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