Review: Dangerous Blues, by Stephen Policoff

About the book, Dangerous Blues: Kind of a Ghost Story DangerousBlues

• Publisher: Flexible Press (October 3, 2022)
• Paperback: 257 pages

Dangerous Blues explores a dark yet comic storm of family relationships laced with a buzz of the supernatural, where the fleeting light of the present must constantly contend with the shadows of the past.

Paul Brickner and his 12-year-old daughter Spring are subletting an apartment in New York City. They came to escape the sorrow of their empty house in upstate New York after Nadia, Paul’s wife and Spring’s mother, dies.

Spring quickly takes to her new Manhattan middle school life, including making a new friend, Irina. Through that connection, Paul meets Irina’s mother, Tara White, a blues singer, and perhaps just the spark Paul has been missing.
But Paul begins to fear that he is being haunted by Nadia, who appears to him in fleeting images. Is he imagining it, or is she real? Tara, who grew up in the inscrutable New England cult known as the Dream People, is haunted, too, hounded by her very real brothers to return to the family, and to give back the magical object—a shamanic Tibetan vessel—which they claim she stole from them.

Paul’s cousin Hank, a disreputable art dealer, becomes obsessed with this object. Meanwhile, Paul’s father-in-law, an expert on occult lore, tries to steer Paul toward resolution with Nadia’s ghost.

Driven by Paul’s new circle of odd and free spirited iconoclasts, Dangerous Blues asks the question: when do you let go, and what are you willing to let go of?

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Stephen Policoff Stephen Policoff

Stephen Policoff’s 1st novel, BEAUTIFUL SOMEWHERE ELSE, won the James Jones Award, and was published by Carroll & Graf in 2004. His essay about his disabled daughter’s experience in music therapy, “Music Today?” won the Fish Short Memoir Award and was published in FISH ANTHOLOGY 2012 (West Cork University Press, Ireland). It subsequently appeared in KINDLING QUARTERLY and has been widely republished on music therapy sites all over the world. His memoir, SIXTEEN SCENES FROM A FILM I NEVER WANTED TO SEE, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in January 2014. His 2nd novel, COME AWAY, won the Mid-Career Author Award, and was published by Dzanc Books in November 2014. He teaches writing in Global Liberal Studies at NYU.

Connect with Stephen:

Website | Goodreads


My Thoughts

MissMelissI love a good ghost story, and I love music, so Dangerous Blues was a great match for me. Going in, I didn’t realize this was a sequel to author Stephen Policoff’s earlier works, but it reads very well as a stand-alone novel. I didn’t feel like I had to play catch-up to understand what was going on because it was quite simple: Paul and his daughter Spring need to get away from the house where Nadia (his wife, her mother) died, so they sublet an apartment in New York. I loved the opening scenes showing their arrival in the apartment, and the mix of the owner’s be;longings and the emptiness, as well as the fact that said owner (Rose, Spring’s aunt) left them plates of food for their first night.

What really hooked me on this novel, though, were the details. Paul walks into Spring’s room to find that instead of choosing between two not-very-appealing bunks, she’s bundled up on the floor, early in the novel, and its the sort of scene only a parent would think to write. I also liked that Nadia’s ghost may or may not merely be a dream, a manifestation of Paul’s sadness, though her reality does not change the fact that both father and daughter must grieve and move on.

The entire novel had a very bluesy feeling to it, which tied nicely to the presence of Tara, blues singer, and mother to Spring’s best friend in New York. I felt like each character had a motif – Spring’s was bright and somewhat staccato, Paul’s was slow, told in long saxophone riffs, Irina was almost bop, Tara was the bass line, tying it all together. All four themes were distinct, but blended into something harmonious both with and without Nadia’s quiet melody weaving through it all, and eventually fading. It was this musicality that made me enjoy the book so much – the language, too, was very specific and evocative.

I was expecting a novel about grief to be relentlessly dark, but Policoff is more nuanced that that, and while there is sadness, there are also moments of joy and hope.

Overall, I felt the author’s storytelling was very organic and his characters were interesting and dimensional. I liked this book enough that I want to read the stories that came before it.

Goes well with a proper New York style hotdog, purchased from a sidewalk cart.


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