Excerpt: The Sterling Directive by Tim Standish

It is 1896. In an alternative history where Babbage’s difference engines have become commonplace, Captain Charles Maddox, wrongly convicted of a murder and newly arrested for treason, is rescued from execution by a covert agency called the Map Room. 

Maddox is given the choice of taking his chances with the authorities or joining the Map Room as an agent and helping them uncover a possible conspiracy surrounding the 1888 Ripper murders. Seeing little choice, Maddox accepts the offer and joins the team of fellow agents Church and Green. With help from the Map Room team, Maddox (now Agent Sterling) and Church investigate the Ripper murders and uncover a closely guarded conspiracy deep within the British Government. Success depends on the two of them quickly forging a successful partnership as agents and following the trail wherever, and to whomever, it leads. 

An espionage thriller set in an alternative late 19th-century London.


I was on my second mugful when the locking mechanism spun again, the door opened, and Church came back into the room, carrying a large, flat cardboard box that he put down on the pile of furniture my chair had come from. In behind him walked a woman in dark grey paramilitary uniform, perhaps six feet tall, with a mannish build, a wide, sharp-cheeked face and dark brown hair tied tightly in a bun behind her head. Her eyes stayed on me as she walked into the room and stood by the wall to the right of the door, feet apart, hands loose by her side. She didn’t seem to be carrying a weapon. She didn’t look like she needed one.

‘So, this is Agent Sterling!’ said a voice. ‘How fabulous.’ I looked back to the door as a second woman strode into the room. Shorter and undeniably more feminine than her companion, she was slim rather than slight, her head covered by an oversized bronze helmet from beneath which long tresses of dark hair cascaded to just below her shoulders. She carried with her a charm and confidence undiminished by the flowing, ankle-length toga that she wore, and I stood as she strode across to me and stretched out the hand that wasn’t holding a trident. She was Indian, with large, dark brown eyes, high cheeks and a small mouth that broke into a beaming smile as we shook hands. Something about the way she did it put me in mind of a family trip to Bombay as a boy, and the drinks party to celebrate our arrival where my over-serious ten-year-old self had delighted a gaggle of ornately dressed women with my solemn handshakes and laboriously enunciated greetings.

When this woman spoke, though, her accent was pure essence of Mayfair, with a cheerfully exclaimed ‘What an absolute delight to meet you!’ as if we had run into each other by surprise at a tea party.

‘Britannia, I presume.’

She laughed loudly, still shaking my hand and treating me to another wide and cheerful smile. ‘Well done, Sterling. How lucky we are that you made it across in one piece. I do hope you weren’t too banged around? Everything, as they say, hunky dory?’ She tapped my chest with the trident for emphasis.


Her tone, smiles and flapping hands were of a county hostess meeting a late arrival from the station. Finally letting go of my hand, she glanced around at the room.

‘Oh that is good news! Well, welcome aboard! Kitty and I will head back up. Do join us as soon as you can. Oh and Church, do sort this out,’ she pointed the trident at the furniture, ‘and let’s be on our way.’

‘I am grateful, madam, for you bringing me here but I rather think that you have me mistaken for someone else, I’m not –’

And she stopped, and for a second the smile dropped, her lips thinned, and there was nothing in her eyes but intellect: deep and razor sharp. She stepped towards me, her cheery bluster vanished, and a focused, quietly confident tone in its place. This close to her I could see flecks of amber in the brown that made me think of cat’s eyes.

‘We know who you are, Captain, and who you are pretending to be. We know why you are here and exactly why you shouldn’t be. Millbank will have their brightest and fastest out looking for you, so, all in all, it’s probably best if we look after you for now and probably best if you use a different name, wouldn’t you say? By the time we reach Westminster, you will have been here all evening, indistinguishable from all the other guests at a rather exclusive and wonderful party. So do humour me, Captain, let’s call you Sterling for now and let the explanations catch up with us later. As far as I am concerned Milady or Ma’am should see us through the evening.’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’

She smiled again, a beaming grin that made the world a brighter place and the steel of her mind slipped back beneath a cloak of amiable jollification. She turned on her heel to leave, then froze halfway. ‘And do hurry up, we really should be on deck. I think it’s almost time for the fireworks! And don’t forget the costume.’ This last shouted over her shoulder as she strode out and down the corridor, her dark-haired aide pausing for a moment and then moving out through the door after her, rubber-soled shoes squeaking slightly as she walked along after her mistress.

‘A bit like being in a typhoon, isn’t it?’ said Church after they had both left. ‘Even when you know what’s coming, it doesn’t make it any easier.’

‘If I’m honest all of this is a bit like being in a typhoon.

Where am I? And who the blazes are you people?’

‘Well,’ said Church, ‘if I stopped to tell you all that we’d miss the fireworks. And you don’t want to miss the fireworks, do you Mr Sterling?’

And something in the way he shifted his stance brought a polite threat of injury into the room in a way I would have been wary of even if I hadn’t just been nearly drowned. Whoever they were, it seemed as though playing along with them for now was my best option.

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1789650852/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1789650852/
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1789650852/
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/1789650852/
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-sterling-directive-tim-standish/1137267348?ean=9781789650860
Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-sterling-directive/tim-standish/9781789650853
Audio: https://www.waterstones.com/audiobook/the-sterling-directive/tim-standish/gordon-griffin/9781004016792

Meet Tim Standish

Author image taken by Hannah Couzens Photography

Tim Standish grew up in England, Scotland and Egypt. Following a degree in Psychology, his career has included teaching English in Spain, working as a researcher on an early computer games project, and working with groups and individuals on business planning, teamworking and personal development. He has travelled extensively throughout his life and has always valued the importance of a good book to get through long flights and long waits in airports. With a personal preference for historical and science fiction as well as the occasional thriller, he had an idea for a book that would blend all three and The Sterling Directive was created.

When not working or writing, Tim enjoys long walks under big skies and is never one to pass up a jaunt across a field in search of an obscure historic site. He has recently discovered the more-exciting-than-you-would-think world of overly-complicated board games.

Connect with Tim

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timstandishUK
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54755325-the-sterling-directive

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