Out at Night (A Grace Descanso Novel)
by Susan Arnout Smith
Review by Beth Slater
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312368340
Date: 03 March 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Grace Descanso is on vacation when she gets the message to report to the FBI. Since Grace is a crime scene technician for San Diego, she doesn't feel the immediate need to answer the summons and disrupt the quality time she's having with her daughter – especially since Grace is feeling threatened by the developing relationship between said daughter and her father, to whom she'd recently been introduced (prior book). Grace winds up leaving the two together in paradise to return to the States to find out why Professor Thaddeus Bartholomew – a name she dimly recognizes – texted her name in his final moments before he was skewered with a crossbow and then set ablaze in a field of organic grain.
Grace returns to San Diego to check on her dog, Helix, before heading back out, and stops to see Jeanne, her sponsor. Jeanne's tattooing a young girl while they talk, and here is where it would seem the web begins to spin – Jeanne knows Bartholomew and saw him shortly before he died. Another issue is that Jeanne's boyfriend, Frank, genetically modifies crops, and was putting together an international agricultural convention for it, and Bartholomew was raising Cain because of it. So before she even reports in to the FBI, Grace has started following up leads and clues to a case that is way beyond what a crime scene technician should pursue – and all this is before she even sees her Uncle Pete – aka Special Agent Descanso – and flashes back to a lifetime ago.
Grace was called in to the case because she knows about DNA. DNA isn't just for people anymore – plants have it, as well, and it can also be modified. GM stands for genetically modified – and this can have positive and negative effects. One of Grace's recent lectures had been on racial profiling using DNA, and the FBI wanted her to use this knowledge in their case – and not just because Bartholomew had all but physically assaulted her when she gave this lecture. Grace must follow the clues of DNA from field to field and from fellow to fellow – starting from scratch so that all of her information is fresh and untainted – and call upon knowledge stored in hidden recesses where Grace would rather it remain untouched. And all of this is happening while she is reuniting with her long-estranged family – Uncle Pete and his daughter, Vonda, who is heavily pregnant and part of the group protesting the GM movement.
This is a very complex suspense novel, with a lot of procedure in it. Be prepared to follow a lot of characters but not with a lot of deep character development, not even for the protagonist. I didn't find it particularly gory and there was a tad of romance, but not enough of any one thing in this book to keep me coming back to this author.