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.

I am the Resurrection by John Bowie

Max’s Filipino Taxi Dancehall was a real shithole… And it didn’t have a dance floor. A stench came from piss that ran out the front door, down the street and to the beach outside. A make-shift urinal fixed to the bar-front meant they drank, pissed and worse without moving for days. It was a real hit with the flies, lowlife drop outs and my target.

‘I used to hate the taste of it, until I got shot. Ironic I know. Then, each glass full cushioned the blow,’ he said…too drunk to look up to recognise me.

I smashed the glass ashtray into his nose. He fell bleeding a trail of glass, blood and mucus along and off the end of the bar — out cold.

I left wondering why I’d left it at that. I had more hurt for him. For a moment I’d seen him for what he used to be, before becoming the origin of my pains. He’d said what I used to think about myself. I deserved a hit alright and I’d given it to him.

Like me, the fucked up ex-services barfly was due that much, for now. His final dues were coming. I’d already had mine.

The Stone Roses played in the background — It fitted. He had dropped through gutter level but I was moving on; out the door.

‘…and I am the light,’ crackled over the speakers. For a moment, a mass of dead flies were resurrected as they vibrated, danced and bounced around in the dust on top.

I waited in the shadows on the corner outside as he finished his last drink.

The night darkened as he stumbled out, followed by a gust of smoke and more stench.

I watched. Still. And smoked.

On my last smoke of the night, hands free, I looked deep into the night. I breathed out rings at the moon and it stared back cold-hard-empty at me. In the sand, my hands choked the life from him. I released a fraction, so he could take a last breath, but that was it…all he was getting from me.

I’d written and drank myself through hell and back. I’d drowned out the loss of her with each glass. The loss he’d given me was irreconcilable, even with his neck in my hands as a pulse weakened, and he faded out.

The stars grew over the black ocean’s surface ahead.

Each bar and drink had drifted him closer and closer to me…one shot at a time. Each word I’d written had set it in stone; it was my confessional.

It was only the start. As I was beginning to be untethered from my past.

He had stolen my dreams of a future. And I took his life, but the memories ran deep. I’d have to choke more pain from the world to ease my own.

In the distance, at the end of the beach, under the pier…a girl winced. She was being held down by an angry shadow. She didn’t want what the man that grasped at her arms had in store for her…

And he wouldn’t want what I had for him.

I opened the knife and locked the blade into place. Soon, she would cry out, run and hide. Then eventually she’d smile again as she realised: finally, she was free of him.

In morning two gulls took a break from searching for stale chips, and wrestling washed-up condoms.

There was fresh meat on the beach. And his eyes were a much tastier treat.


Bio: John writes dark fiction and crime noir full of dirty realism. His articles, short stories and novels are online and in print for the likes of Bristol Noir, Storgy Magazine, Litro Magazine and Dead Man’s Tome. He grew up on the coast in rural Northumberland, a region steeped with a history of battles, Vikings, wars and struggles. These tales and myths fascinated him as a child, and then as an adult. In the mid to late nineties he studied in Salford enjoying the bands, music, clubs and general urban industrial-ness of Greater Manchester, including the club scene and the infamous Hacienda. He was also there when the IRA bomb went off in 1996.

John Bowie