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.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 don't know how much you know about babies, and if you've lost a bunch, maybe not too much."
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.