Mood Indigo
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Female duo solves 1930s New York mystery

Reviewed by Anna Wentworth for the Roanoke Times, Roanoke, Virginia, July 5, 1998

From the first seconds inside the mind of a woman falling to her death, Charlotte Vale-Allen's novel Mood Indigo captivates. The smart, attractive, savvy-but-troubled heroine Honoria Barlow and her new assistant Maybelle, a sharp, competent and pretty young black woman, draw the reader in further. The setting, New York in the time between world wars, gives the novel added interest. It was a fascinating, lively, bedazzled era, and Allen has recreated it well.

Honoria is an intriguing character. In demand as a script doctor for Hollywood, she fixes hopeless movie scripts for the burgeoning movie industry. She is an orphan who made good, a woman succeeding in a man's world. And she takes on a black assistant, becoming her friend and giving her equal status at a time when that was unheard of. Honoria married a mysterious Russian after a very brief European trip and never questions his secretive "meetings."

Honoria's best friend has died, leaving behind a young son, Chip, for whom Honoria feels the greatest devotion. When Chip's fiancee falls or is thrown to her death from her balcony, Chip wants to know what happened. Was it suicide or murder? He asks Honoria to help find the truth, and against her better judgment, she does.

Mood Indigo is so much more than just the search for a murderer; it is a search through layers of life secrets, through complex and convoluted relationships. The characters find truths and have epiphanies about their own and other's motives. Mood Indigo is a dense and satisfying mystery. I recommend it highly.

Anna Wentworth reviews theater for WVTF.


An interview with Charlotte Vale-Allen

by Anna Wentworth

Special to the Roanoke Times

Q: On whom, if anyone, did you base the character Honoria? Is there some of you in her?
A: She is entirely fictional. The aspects we might share are a passion against discrimination of any sort, a love of reading and writing, and a capacity to care for others, sometimes to our own detriment.

Q: What research did you do into the period?
A: I read the entire Encyclopedia of New York and made my own, smaller reference work comprised of people, places, things and events all relevant to 1935. I also listened to a lot of music and made great use of a slang dictionary that was published around that time.

Q: What did you choose to set your novel in that period?
A: I love the era, but more importantly I wanted to write a mystery that didn't depend on technology. So there really was no choice; I had to go with a time in history when there was a great sociological-economic upheaval, and when men and women seemed to fall in love in a way they don't do now.

Q: What do you want to accomplish with your writing?
A: My goal has always been to communicate, to enlighten people about women's issues without being preachy, and to entertain while doing it. If I succeed in getting someone to think about the book's content after they've finished reading it, then I've accomplished what I set out to do.

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Review from Book Browser

by Harriet Klausner, reprinted with permission by Painted Rock: Writers and Readers Colony, March 24, 1998

In 1934, DeeDee Carlson tumbles off her fifteenth floor balcony, landing on a Packard parked near the corner of Manhattan's 73rd Street. The police believe that the woman was murdered and her boy friend Chip Stevenson is the prime suspect. Chip turns to his deceased mother's best friend, script doctor Honoria Barlow, who has some sleuthing experience, to find out who really killed DeeDee.

For anyone besides Chip, Honoria probably would have said no, especially since her spouse wants her to stay away from investigations. However, for the sake of her friendship with Chip and his late mother, Honoria begins to look into DeeDee's death. She quickly learns that the victim is not quite the sweet innocent described by Chip. She also realizes that her sleuthing has riled someone who wants her to stop her investigation and will personally help her do so, if necessary.

Mood Indigo brilliantly catches the mood of depression era Manhattan inside a smooth, well-executed mystery. The who-done-it is fun and Honoria lives up to her name as an honorable and interesting character. The support cast adds a veritable feel for the era even as they propel the tale forward. Hopefully, Charlotte Vale-Allen provides more Honoria amateur sleuth tales taking place in thirties Manhattan (and perhaps the other boroughs as well).

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Mood Indigo Review

by Susan Scribner, THE ROMANCE READER, May 1998

It's been years since I checked out a novel by Charlotte Vale-Allen, the author of more than 35 books over the past 20 years or so. I was glad I took the time to reacquaint myself with her voice. In Mood Indigo she offers an interesting time piece and a character study of a wonderful heroine. There's also a touch of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure, but I think the author's heart is with her heroine and the close bonds she has formed with the other women in her life.

Honoria Barlow lives a fabulous life as a film script doctor in 1934 New York. Her witty way with words allows her to support herself by fixing other scriptwriters' mistakes. Honoria's "family" includes Maybelle, a loyal girl-Friday; Ruth, a devoted British housekeeper; and Mikhail, Honoria's wildly enthusiastic Russian husband of the past two years.

Then Chip, the son of her late best friend, calls on her in panic. His girlfriend DeeDee has recently plunged off an apartment balcony to her death, and Chip has been arrested for her murder. When Honoria and an attorney friend manage to free Chip without raising a sweat, it is revealed that DeeDee's death will now be ruled a suicide. But young, earnest Chip can't imagine how the sweet girl he loved could have taken her own life. He asks Honoria to talk to some of DeeDee's friends and relatives to solve the puzzle of her life and death.

Although Honoria lacks detective experience, she can't refuse Chip a favor, and soon she and Maybelle are caught up in the mystery. As they learn more about DeeDee's less than angelic personality, they realize any number of people would have been happy to see her dead. And as Honoria explores, she realizes that her own tragic past that she has kept hidden from everyone must be revealed.

Honoria easily admits her physical attraction to the husband she married after a whirlwind courtship, but the sophisticated forty-something heroine has never allowed herself to consider whether or not she loves the big lug. Then a surprising revelation tests Honoria and Mik's relationship, forcing them to confront their true feelings for each other and the strength of their relationship.

The mystery of DeeDee's death is revealed in a way that is almost anticlimactic, and the romance between Honoria and Mikhail is only slightly more fulfilling. It's clear that Allen is really interested in exploring the relationship between independent, straight-shooting Honoria, nurturing Ruth and emerging Maybelle. This is sisterhood at its best. At the center of it all is Honoria, a mature woman ahead of her time who is not afraid to cross color, class or other social barriers. The 1930s setting is a nice change of pace from both traditional historical and contemporary romances, and the author has lots of fun utilizing Depression-era artifacts to give the novel a strong sense of place and time.

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from Booklist, May 15, 1998

It's New York, it's winter, and it's 1934. Honoria Barlow, raised from infancy in a Catholic orphanage, is a dedicated and prosperous "movie script doctor," currently living with her lover, Mick, a mysterious Russian she met while traveling in Europe. Maybelle, a proud and determined young woman from Harlem, is Honoria's fiercely loyal secretary of five years. At the urging of guileless Chip Stevenson, the son of Honoria's deceased best friend, the women try to uncover the secrets behind the murder/suicide of wolf-in-sheep's-clothing Dee Dee Carlson, Chip's fortune-seeking girlfriend. Curiously, the mystery-solving endeavors of Honoria and Maybelle take a backseat to the interaction between Honoria's comrades and housemates and Allen's vivid portrait of Depression-era America. However, the arrangement works quite nicely, allowing the character's devotion to Honoria and their personal and collective histories to shine through.

Mood Indigo is a truly delightful tale, complete with an unpretentious mystery and a refreshingly warm tribute to friendship thrown in for good measure.

Copyright � 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved.

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"Mood Indigo is Tantalizing!"

by Gwen North Reiss, The Advocate & Greenwich Time, Stamford, Connecticut, Sunday, March 8, 1998

Acclaimed and best-selling mystery writer Charlotte Vale-Allen began her career in her native Canada. She now lives in Norwalk [Connecticut], where she publishes her novels under the aegis of her own publishing company, Island Nation Press.

Her latest mystery Mood Indigo, comes with a quote from Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse series and an admirer of Allen. Fans of good mystery writing who don't yet know her work will find Mood Indigo--with its evocative 1930s New York City setting--a good place to start.

Honoria Barlow, Allen's sleuth and central character, is a much sought-after script doctor who turns the work on inept Hollywood hacks into polished scripts. The independent and self-possessed Honoria is also newly married, much to the consternation of her friends, to a big, Russian bear of a man. Pressed into service as a detective when the son of her late best friend is arrested and questioned about the murder of his fiancee, Honoria uses her storytelling instincts to get the scoop on a young woman who turns out not to have been the lovely person her young friend imagined.

The investigations into the seamy life of Miss DeeDee Carlson will lead Honoria to a second murder case and to her own brush with death. Honoria's crackerjack secretary Maybelle, a young black woman she hires away from a coat-check job, becomes her friend and confidence. During the investigation, Maybelle plays Watson to Honoria's Holmes.

Mystery lovers will happily lose themselves in Allen's absorbing storytelling style. The glimpses of Depression-era New York City (the nightclubs, radio shows, and the Hooverville shacks in Central Park) transport readers far away from the computer age. With its rickly layered plot and witty, down-to-earth characters, Mood Indigo satisfies on all counts.

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A strong-willed heroine and a hint of romantic suspense in 1930s Manhattan enliven Allen's latest, a well-executed period crime novel. Honoria Barlow is a script doctor with a sideline in solving mysteries. When Chip Stevenson, the son of Honoria's best friend, is arrested for the murder of his fiancee, Honoria promises to investigate. With the help of her secretary, Maybelle (whom she has hired away from Small's nightclub in Harlem), Honoria discovers that the vixenish victim was not the sweet girl that Chip believed her to be. Although the investigation grows increasingly dangerous, Honoria presses forward over the protests of her live-in Russian lover, Mikhail, whose erratic comings and goings present another nagging enigma. In Honoria, veteran novelist Allen (Claudia's Shadow, 1996) has created a charming character whose gentle attempts to promote feminism and alleviate racism add unexpected attractions to an already winning tale.

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Mysterious Mood

by Laura Dempsey, Dayton Daily News, March 6, 1998,

The '30s serve as the backdrop to story with colorful characters and secrets.

Sometimes-not often-a bookshopper should pay attention to the blurbs on the jackets.

"Another treat for the Vale-Allen fan club, of which I've been a member for many moons," writes Colin Dexter on the cover of Mood Indigo by Charlotte Vale-Allen.

A little research (opening the front cover) reveals that Vale-Allen has written 35 books. A little further research (reading the press material) indicates she's one of the most-borrowed authors in Canadian libraries-she lives in Connecticut but comes from Toronto-and that she started her own press to publish Mood Indigo because publishers didn't cotton to the idea of a mystery set in the 1930s.

Their mistake.

Mood Indigo is different, but not that different. It's a step back to the black-and-white movies of the Bette Davis era, when women were broads, chauffeurs drove big cars, and everybody ate red meat.

The story revolves around a worthy heroine, Honoria Barlow, rich, beautiful and uncharacteristically married to a mysterious Russian picked up on vacation somewhere. She and her loyal, black secretary Maybelle-an equal in the days when doormen routinely told blacks to go around back-become involved in a mystery surrounding the death of an unlikable young woman named DeeDee, who fell (was pushed?) from her balcony.

Honoria's beloved nephew, Chip, was involved with DeeDee and is therefore involved in the investigation. Honoria & Co. jump in to help out.

But there's a lot more going on than a mere mysterious death. Like all good mysteries, Honoria's back story is a tale in itself. She has one of those wonderful/awful secrets, which relates to her devotion to Chip and her strange detachment from her own marriage. Her entourage, which includes a housekeeper with a terrific back story of her own, is eccentric and doggedly loyal-and if we worked for Honoria we would be, too. Even her job is cool: She's an uncredited, brilliant script doctor, called in on deadline to save a movie from itself.

The characters are worth our time, and Vale-Allen (who adopted her first two names from a character in an old Bette Davis movie) evokes a feeling of time and place in which cell phones and fax machines have no place: These guys pound the pavement and use their brains.

The underlying emotion, though, is sadness, for all the characters bear a cross or two. They do it with dignity, however, and "victim" is a word they all eschew. When all is said and done, with the mystery solved and injuries healed, the reader feels proud to be part of this circle of friends.

The Bottom Line: Strong, hip heroine has broad appeal.

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The Midwest Book Review
Reviewer's Bookwatch,
February 1998

In late winter 1934, in Manhattan, DeeDee Carlson dies after falling from the balcony of her apartment at the Ansonia. Her boyfriend, Chip Stevenson, begs Honoria Barlow to look into the circumstances of DeeDee's death. Honoria agrees to do a little sleuthing--and the situation turns as dagerous as the murderously cold weather. With homeless families living in a Hooverville in Central Park, and the popular radio shows, restaurants, nightclubs, and shops, the era is meticulously reproduced by author Charlotte Vale-Allen. Mood Indigo has all the appeal of the best of the film noir movies of that era. This a perfect novel for that "theatre of the mind" experience so sought after by the reader, and so rarely well delivered by an author!

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Ottawa Citizen, October 19, 1997

It's 1934 and "script doctor" Honoria Barlow, the darling of all who meet her, is racing deadlines while pondering the lifestyle of her mysterious Russian husband. When her belowed "nephew" Chip Stevenson is accused of murdering his fiancee, Honoria and her trusted secretary Maybelle leap to his aid and end up trying to unravel the unexplained death. Was it suicide or murder? Vale-Allen has captured the speech, the music and the daily events of the times while plotting a credible but sad tale.

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