“Mad” Malago Browne and Pierre “Polecat” de Fermat are wanted for the crimes of murder, arson, robbery and acts of pernicious arithmetic. Welcome to a re-imagined West that sets a new bar for being wild…
I’m not a big fan of the traditional Western (you’re shocked, I know; it’s so unlike me to be leery of stories about men with guns doing violence), but I have a half-acknowledged soft spot for tales that give the setting a SFF make-over. Consequently, Stark Holborn has been on my radar for a while given their enthusiasm for doing just that (not to mention the sly humour evident in those tongue-in-cheek titles).
Triggernometry is set in familiar frontier territory: out West, a person can leave their past behind and build a life for themselves if they keep their head down. Mrs Bee – formerly Professor Browne, also known as ‘Mad’ Malago Browne – has spent five years at the end of the line, determined not to die at the end of a noose. Her carefully-guarded secret? She’s a mathmo.
If the notion of mathematicians as Wild West outlaws doesn’t make you sit right up, this is not the book for you. Triggernometry leans right into Western tropes and puts them to good service within the context of its mostly-implied alternate history. It’s got a brilliant pre-credits sequence that sets the scene perfectly: Browne and Fermat are lured to a homestead to do some illicit calculations for an old lady whose sons have a high-risk plan involving cattle trading for cash. In no time at all, we understand that maths is a dirty word and mathematicians are stone cold killers.
Five years later, Fermat is back to ruin Browne’s carefully-constructed false identity and pull her back into the game to do one last job (a train job, because of course it is) so that he too can retire (yes, he’s an asshat). I enjoyed every single beat of the plot – the unwelcome reunion, the bar-room
brawl shoot-out, the offer that can’t be refused, the recruitment montage, the showdown – you name it, you’ll recognise it, but Holborn executes with such panache I was hooting and punching the air with glee. In amongst the hijinks, there’s room for intriguing relationships take shape, injecting darker and more melancholy notes to round out the tale as characters regret their choices and doubt their alliances.
Sadly, there’s little room in a novella to do more than hint at the back story, but the context we’re given is tantalising. Browne remembers having tenure back in the day and the lawless mathmo town is called Faculty, but we never learn why maths was outlawed or when Browne first picked up a gun. We do see – repeatedly – how dangerous she is with one. The shoot outs feel like they’re brought to you by Guy Ritchie (think the boxing match from Sherlock Holmes), with mathmos flipping out a protractor to work the angles for an impossible shot: it’s wholly absurd, perfectly on point and hugely entertaining.
…which sort of sums up how I feel about Triggernometry as a whole. It stands alone, but I’d cheerfully read many more tales of Malago Browne and her desperate gang of mathematicians. And eventually I’d get a firm grip on that implied history of economic collapse.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.