Famous medium Cairo “Mal” Malachi does not like to keep his schedule over full in October. It creates exclusivity and lends a modicum of credibility to a profession that Mal himself knows is a sham. After all, it takes a jacket full of special tools hidden in secret pockets to make his or any other séance work. It may not be the most honest work, but entertaining in private residences is not technically illegal. Mal learned his lesson about breaking the law after spending a few years in one of London’s many cruel prisons. The experience keeps him on the straight and narrow, all things considered. Which is why he cannot explain why he goes to investigate a bit of odd business he sees down a dark alley en route to a client’s home. And no sooner does he step off the path before he has his arms full of a beautiful, dying constable. Mal refuses to let the police officer die alone. He even dares to employ the constable’s own whistle in a hopeless effort to save the man. Then, he flees.
Suddenly, Mal’s comfortable life is thrown into a tailspin. Given his criminal past, even the sight of a police officer fills him with dread at being identified as the man who saw Constable Noah Bell die. Yet when Noah’s ghost shows up in Mal’s room hoping for answers, Mal is compelled to help. Mal’s first order of business is to maintain the fiction that he, as a medium, can speak to and help all manner of ghosts. Second, he must help Noah solve the mystery of who killed him and why. As the pair work on gathering facts and piecing information together, Mal slowly begins to realize he has feelings–deep feelings–for Noah. And just maybe, Noah might feel something for Mal. At least, as long as Noah doesn’t know the truth about Mal’s past. Now, Mal dedicates himself to doing whatever it takes to bring Noah’s killer to justice. No matter the cost.
Cairo Malachi and the Adventure of the Silver Whistle is a historical paranormal book from author Samantha SoRelle. The book is set in 1895 London and SoRelle does a lovely job setting the tone of the world and helping me visualize the space the characters occupy. As much as I enjoy period queer stories, it was the idea of lovers divided by literal death (and from the beginning!) that had me itching to read this story. The blurb for the book sets the stage well and the opening line did not disappoint: The first time I met the love of my life, he died in my arms. I really enjoyed how Sorelle addresses the life and death situation of our two love interests immediately, has Mal himself (he is the narrator for the whole story) give details of his life before becoming a medium, and establishes Mal in real-time for the first few chapters. I was eagerly anticipating the appearance of Noah and knowing the whole love story would unfold between a living man and a dead one. It was just a pleasure to read something that takes a trope like lovers reunited and turns it so on its head…and to delightful effect.
I liked the ghost world/human world overlaps that SoRelle describes. I thought it was fun to learn that, in the ghost world, even buildings that had “died” could still be present. There is even commerce in the ghost world; Noah buys a whole new suit and personal hygiene products that he can actually use. Generally, the story and everything that happens in it reinforces the idea that the two worlds may overlap, but they do not and cannot mingle…with a few exceptions. That said, I appreciated that there was some foreshadowing in possible shifts in the interplay between the two worlds. One instance came from Noah himself who was able to miraculously save Mal from a dangerous situation by interacting with a human-world object. Another instance came from a ghost who was haunting a wealthy patron at one of Mal’s séances. Of course, the biggest shift in dual-world dynamics happens when Mal decides to act on his romantic feelings, giving the book a fantastic amount of delightfully unexpected spice.
The opposites attract theme is clearly established by having one MC alive and their love interest dead, but Mal and Noah also embody a more traditional sense of opposites attract. Mal has a past as a liar and a thief; Noah has dedicated his life to sending those types to prison. At first, it hardly seems to matter. Mal just wants to help poor Noah solve his murder so the constable can move on. I thought this would be the big conflict at first, but Mal manages to maintain his fiction about being able to summon spirits well enough. Instead, it is Mal’s past that becomes the bigger “lie by omission.” I wasn’t even sure this would be an issue once it was clear these two were heading towards romantic feelings…and, if the world-building around how the ghost and human world can interact, pretty intense feelings at that. But Mal’s history comes up at just the wrong moment, laying Mal bare and leaving him bereft. Personally, I really enjoyed how Mal responded when his sordid past came to light. He did the right thing, he carefully and thoroughly planned the right thing…even knowing it might land him back in prison or worse. And he did it all for the sake of Noah, who was never going to know about it. But of course, it only sounded as desperate as all that. In the end, there is a big dramatic fight scene, an act of true love met with an act of true love, and a great happily ever after.
Overall, I thought this was a wonderfully engaging story. I enjoyed worldly, foppish Mal and boyishly enthusiastic Noah. They had great chemistry on page and got me invested in their individual stories. I loved the idea of a dead love interest and SoRelle found a way to deliver a most satisfying iteration of that theme. If you like mysteries, romances, opposites attract, ultimate sacrifices, police stories, or historical stories I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Cairo Malachi and the Adventure of the Silver Whistle.