Oct 16, 2009

Book Review: Out at Night by Susan Arnout Smith

Out At Night, a mystery by Susan Arnout Smith

Grace Descanso is having a hard time, even while she's on vacation in the Bahamas with her five-year-old daughter Katie. Her estranged husband is along, after many years' absence. Her feelings about him are ambivalent.

To top it off, she gets a call from an uncle who works for the FBI, summoning her to Palm Springs, California, where there has been a murder. He asks her to help investigate.

Background: Grace is a former medical doctor whose regular job is in the police forensics lab in San Diego. Her uncle wants her expertise to study the crime scene and the body in Palm Springs. This is no ordinary case, however. The victim, Thaddeus Bartolomew, is a professor of biology who has been actively protesting genetically modified foods and the upcoming world agricultural conference to be held in Palm Springs.

The professor was killed by a bolt from a crossbow, in a field of genetically modified soybean plants. His last action was to send a text message on his cell phone - just a name, her name - "contact Grace Descanso."

Comments: Almost all the people we meet in the first chapters of the book are entangled in this very elaborate and original plot. There are radical protesters against genetically modified foods, childless women who have had multiple miscarriages, scientists who are actively modifying foods for use in developing countries, and even farmers of organic foods.

Grace reached for a chip and ate it. Fabulous chips. Salty, slightly greasy, cracking and melting, the sweet taste of corn in her mouth. She chewed.

"I don't know how much you know about babies, and if you've lost a bunch, maybe not too much."
There are hints that the protesters will disrupt the international agricultural conference in a big way, but nobody knows how far they will go.

I enjoyed the unusual plot and setting, the surprising and multiple roles played by some of the characters, the hunt for a killer, and the suspense that increases to the very end. Susan Arnout Smith's vivid descriptions of setting and place give you a clear picture image of the action.

The dialogue is so realistic that in a few cases when Grace is investigating and probing, you can feel her impatience to have the conversation move to the main point.

The only sticking point for me was having several chapters end with a surprise that is not explained or followed up immediately in the next chapter. I had to wait till further on to find out, and back track to what happened.

Overall, I recommended the book highly for mystery and suspense fans, especially those interested in the controversy over organic foods, food production, and genetically modified foods. There is a good dose of romantic suspense in this novel too that readers of romance will like.

See my Interview with author Susan Arnout Smith

Published by Minotaur Books, New York, 2009.
Thanks to Authors on the Web for the review copy of this book.

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(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Brenda, the 2010 Books to Read Before I Die Challenge Starts January 1, and finishes on 12/31/2010. Please jpoin in :)

Harvee said...

Well, I might join in but I hate to decide ahead of time which books I'll read and in what order. I usually choose as I go along.


Staci said...

This one really does sound interesting and complex!!

Sue Jackson said...

oooh...sounds very interesting. I just wish you hadn't included that excerpt about the chip. I'm really trying not to snack any more tonight. Good thing we don't have any greasy, salty chips in the house (mmm...).

You said you might be coming down with something - get plenty of rest! There's a lot of nasty stuff going around this fall. In fact, I told my husband I was going up to bed early because I felt so bad and here I am reading blogs...'night!


Harvee said...

Sue: I did the same thing - told my hubby i was going to bed early, and here I am on my blog!

Anonymous said...

I love coming across reviews for books I might otherwise never have found. Sounds like this is a unique context for a mystery. What a topic to tackle: organic foods! James Rollins just released a book, THE DOOMSDAY KEY. It's a thriller about the conspiracy behind the world food shortage and alternative fuels.

I enjoyed your review and will be tracking down a copy of this book. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I like mysteries and the plot about modified food is a new one. I'll have to add this to my list.

susan arnout smith said...

Dear Harvee and the gang:

What a great blogsite! And thanks for your comments.

Susan Arnout Smith

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Oh, I've been hearing about this one, and now I have to add it to the list!

My O book is here:


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good mystery. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This sounds very good! I love mysteries!

Thanks for playing!

Kristen said...

The background in this one makes the mystery sound intriguing.

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