Customer Reviews: Penumbra
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on June 1, 2006
Bravo!!! This is by far Ms. Haines best contempory work of suspense and mystery. The town of Jexville has a wide range of characters, each with their own dark secret, which was typical of southern towns in the 1950s (when everyone knew their neighbors). Mix Jexville's characters with a splash of sexual misconduct, forbidden desires and unfulfilled dreams and you have a story that keeps the pages turning until morning.
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on September 10, 2011
Having long been a fan of Haines' "Bones" mystery series, I was excited to get my hands on Penumbra. And WOW, I was not disappointed. This was a much darker story that illustrated in heart breaking clarity the oppressive and stifling environment the 1950's deep South could be. Forbidden love, societal pressures, intense savagery born from hate and greed, gripping's all in here and I was deeply affected by the strength and courage of some characters contrasted to the cowardice and pure ugliness of others. In all honesty I wasn't completely satisfied at the story's end because I was left wanting just a little more but I know that in reality there isn't always the "happily ever after" that we all tend to hope for. Ms. Haines definitely has a talent with words and creating characters that I can really grab ahold of. This story may haunt me for a while.
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on October 2, 2006
I enjoyed the intrigue of the book, but found the ending to be completely unsatisfactory. Without giving away the story, I had a hard time with John Hubbard at the end, and what Jade was going to do. A very interesting, suspenseful story, with a less than satisfactory ending.
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on November 5, 2011
I thought I would like this book but it truly disappointed me. There were undeveloped characters, themes that repeated, and a totally confusing ending.

First, you have a woman who is beaten, raped and left for dead. One chapter you are told there is no hope of recovery and the next the doctors seem to think she is faking and choosing not to awake from a coma. It seems her only purpose is to wake up and tell you what happened to her and her daughter and then go back to sleep. The two men in her life, her husband and her lover, seem to just make an appearance in the book to do nothing. Her husband is supposedly very powerful but he does nothing but stomp in and out of a few chapters. Then her lover appears, disappears, reappears and then disappears for no purpose other than to show a weak connection to the mother of the woman. We don't even know what exactly the connection is to the mother.

Then, her half sister seems to have a connection to the dead but it doesn't seem to further the plot. We just have to hear over and over and over how she is part negro. It takes away from the fact that she is a strong woman who built her own business. I expected for that to continue and for her to show the town that she is more than the woman who cuts their hair and makes the dead look good. But, I am not really sure what her fate is at the end.

The rest of the characters are just as weakly developed. When they do seem to have a life changing experience you never can really figure out what truly motivated them. If she had focused on just a few characters in the story it would have been better. Too much time is wasted describing people who have nothing to do with the main story. I still don't understand why a group of sadistic loggers was thrown in along with the woman and boy they are keeping prisoner.

The ending was just ridiculous but I really couldn't even tell you what happened. It just ended. The only reason I gave it 2 stars is that I felt the author did have a good grasp of descriptive writing, too bad the plot was sluggish and the character development was poor.
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on October 13, 2011
I found this mystery/character study utterly fascinating. Set just after WWII in a small, rural Southern town surrounded by stereotypical mountain men and their inbred brethren allowed this murder mystery to practically write itself. At turns horrifying and tender, the story allowed me to see what I was reading in my mind. This is not a small feat for a writer, as my brain is wired for word thoughts not pictures. Unfortunately, the book left me with the impression that it was a draft and not a completed work. Too many people were brought in without back stories and the ending read like Ms. Haines had missed her publisher's deadline. The book needs another 30 to 50 pages.
In fact, if the writer put in the time and effort to flesh out the story and give it a satisfactory ending I would pay for the book and read it again.
Southern town, racial tensions, hillbillies, foolish women, sadistic men, smart people and half-wits -- excellent descriptive passages about people, objects and the occasional psychic vision -- just enough sex -- just enough horror -- If you like these elements, read the book but be prepared to imagine your own ending.
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on October 9, 2011
I have been a faithful Carolyn Haines "Bones" fan since she starting publishing them. This book, however, is so different from her usual writing. I'm not usually a fan of dark mysteries, but this book would not let me put it down. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it because its storyline disturbed me and I could not sleep thinking of the possible ending. Seldom does a book make me shudder in anticipated terror but this one did. The next morning I was still thinking about the book and had to tell my husband about it to clear it out of my mind. Carolyn makes her characters so real, you feel like you're going through it with them.
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on June 1, 2006
As someone who reads more books in one month than most people read in one year, I can attest that this one stands out from the crowd. Haines, who has entertained me well with her series of "Bones" books, made me sit up and take notice of just how good a writer she is with this book. I could barely put it down, finishing it in two days. Fiction set in timeframes other than the present rarely garner my attention, but Haines certainly did with this one. About the only other writer I can think of who has done that in recent years has been Dennis Lehane, whom I consider one of the top American fiction writers. Now, with this book, Haines has reached the top of my personal favorites list.
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on October 13, 2011
Just finished this roller coaster of a tale, and what a ride it was. I had a hard tome putting it down and read into the wee hrs of the night. There were so many things going on, so many interesting characters.
I was somewhat disappointed and still a slight bit confused with the end...not what I expected and not what I had hoped for :(.
I would definitely recommend this book, you won't be sorry. I will be looking for more by this author!
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Post World War II, Jade Dupree owns her own beauty shop and is also the undertaker's assistant in the small Southern town of Drexel, Mississippi. Jade is half-black, her white mother Lucille Longier having handed her over to her black handyman and his wife to raise. Jade's white half-sister Marlena is married to Lucas Bramlett, the wealthiest man in Drexel. Although Jade's skills as a hairdresser are sought after by the rich, white women of Drexel, she understands she will never be considered anything but black and these women are not above pointing this out. When Marlena is brutally raped and her daughter disappears, Jade begins to spend time with her sister, hoping to find out who raped her and where her daughter is. Sheriff's deputy Frank Kimble is investigating the case and he and Jade share an attraction for one another which Frank is more than willing to pursue but Jade reluctant.

Haines excels at portraying the temperamental atmosphere of a small Southern town's racial infrastructure. There is a melancholic cast to the story, told from Jade's point of view, that brings to heart the biases blacks faced during that era, as well as the prejudices some held against whites and their own race. The mystery isn't a complex one and more tertiary to the story than the complexities of and interactions between characters.
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on May 14, 2014
This book was just okay. I enjoyed the fact that it was set in MS and so I recognized most of the town and county names, and the characters were sort of interesting. However, the ending seemed very rushed and slightly confusing. Honestly I didn't really get a sense of closure for the story.
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