Thanks to Meier’s vivid scene craft and the prevailing sense of tension, even readers not aware of the tragedies of Liberia at the dawn of the 1980s will feel the inevitable coming: an assassination, military rule, and Ken and Sam caught up in it all. Unlike many thriller authors, though, Meier doesn’t treat his setting like a mere romantic backdrop. Instead, for all the scrapes and suspense, and the excitement of rainy season plane trips and Ken;s unexpected surveillance work for the Liberian Army, the book’s beating heart is its evocation of a nation in crisis and the way that, in games of power, it’s the citizenry who suffer the most. “Life is hard and life is cheap,” Ken thinks, after watching the offhand execution of a mine worker. “It doesn’t pay to break the rules.”
Ken’s mistake, of course, is believing he’s mastered those rules and that he could engineer a big score without being compromised by the brutality. Verrier alternates between Ken’s first-person narration and third-person chapters detailing the coup and the burning of Monrovia, threads that readers will dread eventually tying together. Swift, engaging, and tragic, Blood Before Dawn is an uncommonly thoughtful and humane thriller.
Takeaway: Thriller fans who demand realism and humanity will find much to love in this novel of revolutionary Liberia.
Great for fans of: Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist, Mukuka Chipanta’s Five Nights Before the Summit.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-