Mood Indigo by Charlotte Vale Allen
(Island Nation Press, $22, PG) ISBN 0-9657437-1-3
****
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.

Charlotte Vale Allen apparently established her own publishing company to produce Mood Indigo. It's a shame if mainstream publishers have abandoned this talented author. The novel is worth seeking out if you are in the market for well-written women's fiction.

--Susan Scribner


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