The Sterling Directive
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.