The Sterling Directive

Written by Tim Standish
Review by Marilyn Pemberton

Set in an alternate Victorian England of 1896, this debut novel tells of Captain Charles Maddox, who has been exiled to Canada for ten years for a murder he doesn’t remember committing, but who secretly returns after only eight. He is captured by the feared Bureau of Engine Security but is very cleverly rescued by a shadowy government agency called the Map Room.

Maddox is offered a choice by the fabulous Milady: either return to prison or work as an agent – codename Sterling – and investigate the cold Ripper case, in order to discover which government officials conspired to influence the original and enable the perpetuation of a series of terrible murders.

So begins an exciting, intriguing and very clever tale told in the first person by Maddox. The England he describes is recognisable not only from a historical point of view, but also from a modern one: police scour the streets in hot-air balloons; static dirigibles, the Victorian equivalent of CCTVs, are positioned on every street; teleprint machines allow instant communication between remote parties; analytical engines operated by “tappers” send and receive information. Patience, the brilliant tapper, complains that there are “Too many tappers trying to steal stuff”. Sound familiar? The final equivalent of a car chase is achieved by our intrepid team racing across the countryside after the villains in a hot-air balloon in their mechanical “springheels,” which allows the wearer to run fast and leap high.

I found the world that Standish creates fascinating and believable. All the characters are engaging and entertaining, and the novel will be enjoyed by any reader who loves historical, espionage and/or adventure books. By the end there are still unanswered questions, which leave me with the hope that Standish is currently writing the next book in a series. Highly recommended.