Books in brief: Ferraris, Saulter, Sun-Tzu, Langbein

Zoë Ferraris, Night of the Mi’raj, City of Veils, and Kingdom of Strangers. Little, Brown & Co. 2008, 2010, 2012. Library books.

A series of mysteries set in Saudi Arabia. The protagonist of the first novel is a young devout Palestinian called Nayir; in the following two, more of the protagonist duties are taken over by Katya Hijazi, one of the few female lab technicians with the Saudi police.

I heard of these via first Marissa Lingen and then Marie Brennan. They’re really enjoyable books, although the mystery element is not always entirely well developed: the interest and the tension is in how the cultural norms and laws of the kingdom constrain the characters’ behaviour. It is rather difficult to investigate a crime when women and men are not supposed to speak to each other unless they’re related, and Katya could lose her job at any time for any perceived violations of the virtue policy of her employers. But the characterisation is excellent, and both Saudi Arabia and Islam are treated with a depth and a respect I haven’t often seen in fiction.


Stephanie Saulter, Binary. JFB, 2014. Review copy.

Read for review for Strange Horizons. Interesting sequel. Recommended.

Sun-Tzu, The Art of War (with a selection from the Chinese commentaries). Penguin, 2009 (2002). Edited and translated by John Minford.

An interesting and very readable translation. Minford has chosen to use short lines and line breaks after phrases, giving a feeling of aphoristic poetry to Master Sun’s work. I enjoyed reading it.

John H. Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Régime. University of Chicago Press, 2006 (1976).

A brief history of torture as a legal instrument in Europe prior to the 19th century. It could have done with a little more explanation of the difference between the Roman law systems of Europe and the law system of England, but it explains very well why those two systems had different approaches to torture as a legal instrument, and how changes in the standard of proof required for punishment led to a reduction in the use of torture to coerce confessions.