Noirvember Review: John Bowie’s Transference by KA Laity

Noirvember can be a little too much of a look-back-bore at times (at times!) so it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re living in something of a heyday of new noir (neo-noir too, but let’s not nitpick about genre borders just now: life is hard enough at the moment). Maybe we don’t want to think too much about why that is and how much the current landscape blows, so let’s just enjoy what there is to be savoured now.

Mother-Manchester swallowed the train with a blanket of grey. Rain and the smog of industry, breweries and relentless traffic were all around. With no gradual build-up of population, houses and industrial units to the city, it just happened; it was there. Everywhere. Its presence hit me out of the blue like a brick in the face thrown from its many factory walls. I’d been there before, travelled that line, entered it many times. Each time I still got the same awakening, eyes opening; a realisation to the endless brick. And the dank soup of it all.

John Bowie is best known for Bristol Noir, a terrific site where, in full disclosure, some of my writing has appeared (and I received a review copy of this book in hopes of an honest review). There’s a reason for that: a shared love of noir’s dark crystalline beauty. Transference distills that rich vein of noir and blends it with a pure Manchester poison. Too much can brutalise as his protagonist John Black knows. Like so many noir characters, he reluctantly heads back to the city that slapped him down for a final reckoning with the scars and bars he couldn’t put behind him.

As soon as I entered Manchester. As the smoke of the factories stung at my nose. He was in that band once. Now, he’s in another.

Three women look over his shoulder as he navigates the return to his haunted past. My favourite was his agent: ‘an ex-burlesque dancer, stage name M. Pampelmousse’ but there’s also a cop named Cherry, and emphasising the deep roots of the past, a therapist (there’s all kinds of juice in the book’s title). This is noir: their motivations may not be as clear as John believes, but he desperately needs to have faith in someone.

Fittingly for a book that knows where the border between Salford and Manchester lies, it’s suffused with the pulse of the music and familiar lyrics pop up in the prose and the chapter titles, running the gamut from Dice Man to Some Velvet Morning. This is a book for some whisky and a turntable. You can hear the crackle of needle on every page.

Transference by John Bowie is available from Red Dog Press.