THE NIGHT OF THE RIPPER by Robert Block reread much better than the first time I encountered it, mostly because I knew up front it was a straight mystery and not to anticipate a “Yours Truly Jack the Ripper” twist. If nothing radical in Ripper fiction, a well-executed story as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Abberline and a fabricate American doctor try to figure out the identity of the man butchering White Chapel prostitutes and pretty much every suspect from Leather Apron to Prince Eddy gets dragged in. Very good on the details of the setting from clothes to slang.
COFFEE AND COFFEEHOUSES: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East by Ralph S. Hattox looks at the birth of coffee in the Muslim world (most probably in Yemen, then gradually catching on elsewhere) and the reasons why various religious authorities disapproved of coffee and coffee houses as they caught on. While some critics raised medical issues (coffee makes you melancholic!) they also debated whether caffeine’s stimulating effect constituted “intoxication” under Islamic law (the Koran bans “kham’r” rather than wine per se, leading to dispute among scholars what other beverages were forbidden). A bigger issue was the coffee house itself: while more respectable than a tavern, it was seen as equally likely to encourage loose behavior. Specialized but interesting, particularly the discussion of Muslim law and its interpretation.
BLOOD OF TYRANTS by Naomi Novik is the penultimate Temaraire novel, opening with Laurence shipwrecked in Japan, separated from Temaraire and suffering from amnesia which leaves him under the impression he’s still a rising naval officer (I will give Novik credit for not having him miraculously recover his memory down the road). Once they’re reunited, it’s on to China, then to assist against Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, which goes considerably better for the French in this timeline. There’s also our first look at Native American dragons, who in New England are now going into business with the Yankees. A good story, as usual.