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Out at Night: A Grace Descanso Novel    by Susan Arnout Smith order for
Out at Night
by Susan Arnout Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Susan Arnout Smith introduced Grace Descanso, a single mother of five-year-old Kate and a forensic biologist with the San Diego Police Department's CSI, in a pulse-pounding medical thriller, The Timer Game. As that novel ended, Grace had revealed their small daughter's existence to Kate's dad, CNN health reporter Mac McGuire.

Out at Night opens on the murder of history Professor Thaddeus Bartholomew at the site of an experimental soy project in Palm Springs by a man 'crazed with some plan to maim and kill a substantial part of the world's population.' Readers wonders what it's all about, and that big question mark drives the story.

While Thaddeus suffers an agonizing death, Grace is on an enforced leave from her job. She has taken a vacation with Kate on the Bahamas island of Eleuthera. They're joined there by Kate's father Mac (who only recently learned he had a daughter). Grace is rescued from this awkward reunion by a summons from her estranged uncle, FBI Special Agent Peter Descanso - the dead professor's last message had spelled out her name.

Grace ends up on the fringes of the FBI investigation, while Kate remains with her dad. The terrorism task force is concerned about the likelihood of an attack (by a violent group called Radical Damage) on an international agricultural convention that's about to start in Palm Springs. Grace tells them about a lecture she gave - on racial profiling using DNA - that Thaddeus Bartholomew crashed.

But her uncle has another, more personal concern - his pregnant daughter, Grace's cousin Vonda, might be involved in the murder - and in further violence that follows. The plot thickens when Grace's good friend Jeanne is arrested for a past she had kept secret. Then Grace discovers that a soy genome has been modified to affect humans and that there are plans to distribute it widely. Will she stop it in time?

Though Out at Night has a good premise, I found the character motivations elusive and the plot rather jerky. However, the story centers on a genetic engineering topic of concern to us all, and is worth reading for that aspect alone.

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