A mysterious author writing under the pseudonym Stark Holborn first made themselves known for a smart take on the post-western novel with Nunslinger — a more serious and deep story than the title would lead you to believe. It was first serialised in twelve parts before being picked up and published as a novel by Hodder and Stoughton.
Triggernometry is the author’s second story, a novella that keeps the western setting, but this time imagines a world where mathematicians have become outlawed and those practicing any form of mathematics declared illegal. Perpetrators of such heinous crimes are hunted down with little mercy and even less justice.
Professor ‘Mad’ Malago Browne is one such outlaw, who has turned her back on a life as a gunslinger and ekes out an existence one step ahead of bounty hunters by providing illicit book-keeping to those willing to take the risk of hiring her. Then her old partner tracks her down, looking to team up for that ‘one last big heist’.
So far, so familiar as westerns go (except for the maths). However, it’s not long before you realise that Triggernometry offers something more. The author has a real flair for storytelling, populates the world with interesting characters, and colours everything with lively, descriptive prose. The plot has enough twists, turns and double-crosses to keep things interesting and it’s all wrapped up in the dusty western setting reminiscent of western films and pulp fiction novels that populated much of the mid 20th century.
Those who pay close attention will realise that a number of the characters in the book are named after real mathematicians from around the world, from French lawyer Pierre de Fermat (best known Fermat’s Last Theorem, but also responsible for Fermat’s Principle) to American Soloman Lefschetz, perhaps best known for the topological formula known as the Lefschetz fixed-point theorem. These outlaws aren’t just mathematical geniuses; they have a real talent for trigonometry, to the extent that they can figure out how to shoot at the right angle to take people out in some style.
If you thought that last sentence sounded a little far-fetched, you’d be right: it does. That leads us to the issue I have with this book. At times it seems to struggle to decide exactly what it wants to be.
Did the author come up with the title first and then build a story around this play on words? Is it a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the post-western genre? Perhaps it’s just trying to be a light-hearted piece of fiction that looks to emulate the pulp western novels of the 20th century? That doesn’t seem to be the case, given how much time and effort has gone into the characters and writing. It seems more likely a deconstruction of the genre.
The answer isn’t clear though. At times it feels quite serious, while at others (like when a bullet bounces off objects to hit an obscure target) far less so. The author’s talents as a writer are clear, and yet it feels a disjointed juxtaposition of clever writing when combined with implausible trigonometry shooting hijinks.
Despite this, Triggernometry does work. It’s entertaining and, at times, clever fiction; and the pace is such that, combined with the novella length, it makes a quick and easy read. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in this time of self-isolation.