Reviews for Blood Before Dawn
“An impressive literary balancing act that is as entertaining as it is thoughtful…
Meier continues his The Dung Beetles of Liberia series with this enthralling installment as Ken Verrier returns to Liberia to buy diamonds. It’s April of 1979. When Ken, accompanied by his strong-willed wife, Sam, planned to return to Liberia to buy diamonds, he had no idea the country was entering a devastatingly tumultuous period of political unrest. Will he get out alive? Meier’s insights into the ways corruption, injustice, and atrocities hollow out a nation’s soul are cleareyed. His prose is intelligent, the narrative engrossing, and his unflinching forays into the African nation’s social, cultural, and political atmosphere are realistic. Along the way, he weaves in a high-profile assassination, suspense, and daring escapades, keeping readers invested. From its adrenaline-fueled opening to its surprising conclusion, this poignant novel brilliantly captures the population’s unrest and the white-hot fury as they struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life. This is a powerful story of civil unrest, corruption, and the arbitrary division between the masses.”
“It’s 1979, and Ken has returned to Liberia. It’s been ten years since his last adventure in Africa, and now he’s on a mission to obtain uncut diamonds to support his air carrier business. Immediately, Ken and his wife, Sam, are hit with a tidal wave of sweaty bodies and riotous citizens storming the Executive Mansion, home of Liberia’s suppressor, President Tolbert. Liberian natives continue to grow restless with the oppression from the Congo people, and the breaking point is near.
All the while, behind the scenes, the American government is adding fuel to the fire. Two CIA agents infiltrate the Progressive Alliance of Liberia and offer them what they’ve been desperately trying to get their hands on – guns.
A storm brews and tensions rise as Sam and Ken try to get out of Liberia as fast as they can.
In Blood Before Dawn, Daniel V. Meier, Jr. brings to life a story of innocent bystanders caught up in the terror of espionage and revolution. Based on true events, readers will be captivated by this sequel to the award-winning: The Dungun Beetles of Liberia.
Meier is a powerful writer and will immediately capture your attention on page 1. As a reader, I personally am afraid of the writer that loves to describe everything from the shingles on the roof, down to the pebble in their protagonist’s shoe. Meier, however, has created a beautiful balance between thrilling dialogue and painting his audience a detailed picture of Liberia’s dark underbelly; the turmoil, the struggles and the blood bath that grows with each chapter.
Readers may find the Liberian accent difficult to understand, but some readers may love the broken-down English that makes up the accent or they will hate having to work out every conversation. Though, I believe because Meier uses very little accent, it makes for authentic and interesting dialogue.
While I enjoyed the relentless pace of the novel, there were some things I didn’t quite understand. For example, I felt that there was an odd interaction with the CIA agents and their handler, but maybe it’s an inside joke that we, as the readers, are not supposed to understand. Essentially, the conversation goes like this: We’ll dangle a carrot in front of him, and in the off-chance, he doesn’t bite (queue agent leaning in for a theatrical, conspiratorial whisper), we have more carrots. The agents have a good chuckle and I couldn’t help but laugh along.
This is a thrilling story and was fun to read. I felt like the ending was a bit hollow but I think that this was the point. The point, in the end, was to portray the protagonist as numb. There is so much in this novel to think about and it really leaves you feeling like you had a fully engaging experience by the end. I was invested in the story and I enjoyed the adventure.”
Pilot Ken ‘Spike’ Verrier returns with his beautiful wife, Samantha, to Monrovia, Liberia, to purchase rough diamonds. The diamonds could help get his airline business up and running again. Ken’s initial working man’s dilemma collides with CIA operatives who are secretly inspiring a revolution. This is a West African country where tribal rivalries entangle with class conflicts. Mobs demand rice. With Americo-Liberians growing opulent, the Chinese, Russians, and Americans play political chess with a country whose women seek empowerment and poverty-stricken country people barely survive.
This novel shoots at many targets and lands dead center on insights into the mysteries of human nature. Though Ken is down on his finances, he’s got luck. His circumstances reveal his character to be wise and resourceful in an escalating crisis. Undercover agents Darius and Craig reveal how weaknesses in human nature impact a CIA mission. The character Boa adds light and humor to the rising stakes.
This book covers expansive territory historically, politically, and personally. With the right amounts of vivid details, action flies off the page. The narrative voice seamlessly alternates between the hero and a third-person omniscient point of view. It reads like receiving insider intelligence on how to be influential in Liberia.
Meier’s tale has exotic settings that titillate the imagination. Meanwhile, the use of code language and humor enrich the dialogue. Plus, readers sense what it’s like to be a pilot. On top of that, every violent death comes across to the reader as gut-wrenching. The author’s novel delivers a powerful conclusion but is equally satisfying from beginning to end. In essence, with writing this fine, who needs to go to the movies?”
“This assured follow up to The Dung Beetles of Liberia, Meier’s striking debut, again plunges readers into a West African nation of great wealth, inequality, corruption—and, for protagonist Ken Verrier, opportunity. At least that’s how it seems at first as Ken, with his wife Sam, returns to Liberia’s capital of Monrovia in 1979, eager to score a quick profit in the diamond business, to find riots and revolution in the streets as the nation teeters on the brink. As President Tobert confiscates the Liberian Army’s ammunition, after soldiers refused to fire on furious citizens, Ken, a pilot, goes about securing an airplane for his diamond hunt, at every step encountering signs of Liberia’s instability and foreign nationals (Russians, Chinese, CIA) jockeying to shape its future.
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.”
Production gradesCover: A- Design and typography: A Illustrations: B Editing: A- Marketing copy: A-
Reviews for Bloodroot
“Accomplished author, Daniel V. Meier, Jr, has released another gripping novel in the historical fiction genre, entitled Bloodroot.
The story begins in England in the early part of the 17th century. British citizens are being bedazzled by elaborate tales of a promised utopia, over in the New World, filled with vast amounts of land and gold. The land in this utopia is just waiting to be taken by anyone willing to sail across the ocean and assist in the beginnings of a settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.
Bloodroot follows two of these pioneers, Matthew, a carpenter’s apprentice, and his friend, Richard, each with their own personal reasons for leaving their homeland, decide to brave the rough waters and join in the establishment of a new town, all in hopes of obtaining prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. Unfortunately, the organizations running the ships between England and Jamestown fail to inform their potential passengers of a few important facts: necessary supplies are short and in high demand, the weather is vastly unlike anything anyone has experienced in England, and most critically significant is that Indian tribes are outraged by the British intruders, and are quite willing to fight to protect their land.
The two friends do their best to establish themselves in this wild new land with Matthew having an easier time than his friend. This is because he’s quickly chosen by the leaders to assist in important duties such as the construction of housing, while Richard, because of his good nature and overall naivety, struggles to fit in. Over time, though, he quickly falls in love, marries and begins to build a life with his new bride Anne. However, life in this fledgling colony proves to be anything but a paradise filled with riches. The colonist’s daily strife quickly worsens and descends into bloody chaos when their captain is accidentally injured and must return to England, leaving the colonists feuding over not only power, but the desire to discover the elusive gold in nearby lands. Further devastation arises when Indians manage to get into their unguarded lands, killing people and destroying their food supplies, throwing them into a desperate starvation mode. Matters couldn’t possibly be worse for anyone, including the two friends, who are now also dealing with their own devastating issue. An issue that will destroy their friendship and cause Matthew to become fraught with guilt, depression, and desperation.
Meier’s Bloodroot is a raw, emotional, and vividly depicted novel set during a time that, while it may be quite foreign to us in the 21st century, is so well-written and researched, that you feel as if you’re actually living in 17th century Jamestown. The author has not only written a historically accurate novel, but has also expertly woven a page-turning fictional tale that easily rivals others in the historical fiction category. Laced throughout this intense tale are complex, believable characters, and a plot that captures your attention from the beginning, and leaves you thinking about many scenes well after you’ve finished reading. Finally, it should be briefly noted that the author provides a glossary of terms in the back of the book (that might otherwise go unnoticed until the end) that may enhance your reading journey.
Quill says: Reading Bloodroot is an intense look into the lives of early Jamestown settlers, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.”
– Feathered Quill Review
“Bloodroot, by Daniel V. Meier Jr., tells the story of Matthew as he arrives in newly established Jamestown, in the spring of 1609. As he attempts to resist the lust for gold sweeping through the fort, Matthew discovers the harsh life of the American colonies. He prevails over many trials, but this is Jamestown, 1609. More perils await him as he remains in Virginia.
Meier gives readers a story depicting the cruelty of men and the ruthlessness to which men are driven under duress. It hides none of the ugliness of the colonial era, instead presenting the bare bones of Jamestown. While at times crude, there was a stark feeling of realism giving to the reader, for the better or the worse, an immersive tale. The prose was appropriate and well chosen. Dialogues often left me breathless, presenting thoughts in a natural, yet elegant manner. I have to note that descriptions did not stick with me half as much as the dialogues. Being fully immersed within Matthew’s mind, I found this disappointing. The first person narration was masterfully done, and Matthew was a living, breathing companion as I read his story.
While I enjoyed this story, I felt that the reveal of this tale being an autobiographic story came too late and too suddenly. I had been content to wander alongside Matthew in his life, but the moment it was revealed to be an introspective work, I began looking for hints. Unfortunately, I could find none. I admit that it is a testament to the strength of the narration. There is no flaw to be found in Matthew’s voice. The storyline was interesting, with side characters that left me wanting more. By midpoint, the story began to unfold, and it became a gripping tale that captured all my attention. Matthew’s struggles with his own morality, with his desire for Anne and his wish to find peace, were suddenly made starker under the pressure applied by the later half of the story.
Overall, Bloodroot was a compelling book, with dynamic characters who made you doubt your own morality. Author Daniel Meier Jr. gives readers an evocative historical fiction novel that is consistently entertaining.”
– Literary Titan Review
“A young Englishman travels to the newly settled Virginia that’s billed as a paradise only to find a realm dominated by greed, hunger, and violence in this novel.
Matthew James violates the terms of his apprenticeship—he’s training to become a carpenter—when he assaults his abusive master; as a result, he likely faces prison. His friend Richard Scott—a bookish, dreamily idealistic scholar— plans to head for Jamestown, a “new promised land” that he believes is a utopian alternative to the “vile and sinful land” that is England. Matthew is skeptical but joins Richard anyway, if for no other reason than his lack of options. When they arrive, they quickly discover Richard’s optimism was hyperbolic—the environment is an unforgiving one; supplies are perilously scarce; and the settlers have a gravely hostile relationship with the Natives, the Powhatan. But, as the pair’s leader, Capt. John Smith, explains, the British are driven by an insatiable lust for gold they believe is there to be mined but likely does not really exist. Richard is undeterred, and decides to learn the Natives’ language in order to bring the Powhatan Christian civilization. He marries Anne Breton, but she and Matthew develop romantic feelings for each other that threaten to grow into a betrayal of Richard. In this engaging novel, Meier depicts, with rigorous historical authenticity and rich period details, the difficulties and dangers of Jamestown in the early 17th century, especially acute when the settlers face starvation. In addition, he astutely probes the English conceit that the British are the noble bearers of civilization while the Native Americans are unrefined savages. As one soldier succinctly puts it: “These people fight with us for the same reasons that we would fight with them if they were to invade our country. We call them savages, but what is more savage than English law that would disembowel a man and then pull his body apart while he yet lives?”
A thoughtful and historically exacting tale of a treacherous New World.”
– Kirkus Review
“Meier (The Dung Beetles of Liberia) transports readers back to Jamestown, 1609, in this dramatic historical fiction. Matthew, an English carpenter on the run after assaulting his boss, embarks on the long voyage to Virginia with the hopes of a new beginning with his best friend Richard, an optimistic scholar. Matthew adapts to the harsh environment of the Americas, learning to use a gun and contribute to the settlement, winning favor in the eyes of colony leaders like Captain John Smith. Richard, though, struggles to see Jamestown for anything other than an Eden where he can start a new civilization and spread Christianity to the local Native Americans.
The men’s friendship illustrates opposing viewpoints of early settlers’ adjustment to Jamestown. While Matthew hardens to the reality that the settlement is not a promised land brimming with gold, Richard struggles to learn survival skills, falls in love with an Englishwoman, and insists on his mission to “begin the world over again, the way it should be” by spreading “the light of Christianity.” Both men’s morals are tested as they face the harsh reality for the unprepared English settlers, striving to find food in a punishing winter. Meier doesn’t sugarcoat the settlers’ attacks against the Native Americans or the retaliations: the brutality of Jamestown life, and the battles between the Native Americans and the English, are deftly laid out with clarity and power, inviting readers to experience them alongside Matthew.
History and fiction blend perfectly in this vivid account of early settlement in an unforgiving new land where morals are tested and sins are committed. Those who grew up learning the stories of Jamestown in history classes will recognize many characters, such as Captain Ratcliffe, Powhatan Chief Opechancanough, Captain Davis, and Sir Percy. Meier provides a detailed map so readers can easily follow along with the characters’ movements.
This well-researched novel of early Jamestown will grab readers seeking a fresh look at history.”
– BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly Review
“Bloodroot is set in 1609 and follows the journey of Matthew, a young man who runs away from his oppressive job as a carpenter’s apprentice in England to pursue a new life in the British settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. His friend Richard, who joins him on this adventure, has portrayed that blossoming colony as a paradise of opportunity. Matthew never quite believed this flowery picture of perfection, but he also never imagined that conditions in that colony would challenge him more than his difficult life in England.
From threatening Indians and starvation to elusive promises that turn out to be equally distant and imaginary, Matthew has jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and comes to feel that the only escape from his battered life is death.
Help comes from a completely unexpected angle and changes not only his downward trajectory, but the wellspring of relationships in the New World in this vivid historical piece, highly recommended for mature high school students and historical novel-reading adults alike.
Many historical fiction pieces about these times have been written before; but Daniel V. Meier, Jr. holds a special ability to bring the times to life through his use of the first person to capture these dilemmas through Matthew’s eyes, adding an extensively researched background that rests solidly on real historical facts.
The wilderness encounters are particularly well described as Matthew and his fellow colonists struggle to navigate an alien environment with few resources, providing astute contrasts between England and wild America: “The Lieutenant himself went in search for whatever fruits the land would provide. He soon returned with his hat and shirt full of berries which looked similar to English strawberries but with a sweeter, juicer taste. We heard a musket report not too far off and, in less than half an hour, the marksmen returned, bearing a large male deer strung on a carrying pole.”
Even romance is depicted in all its complexities as Matthew struggles with his heart and aspirations: “I thought of it many times, but Richard told me that he wanted to take you for his wife. You know his hopes for the future. His reasons for wanting to marry you are far nobler than mine. You know why he is here. He is a man of learning and vision. I knew that if God would favor anyone, it would be Richard. I came here only to escape the law, and if it becomes safe for me to return to England, that is what I will probably do.”
Meier’s attention to detail and description power the story line and provide realistic, engrossing scenarios that bring these early times to life.
These elements, combined with an adventure that keeps changing as Matthew adjusts to his environments and hones his real vision of a different future, make Bloodroot an engrossing read. It succeeds in imparting much historical information about early America in a way that makes the story personal, memorable, and hard to put down. The descriptions of settler and Indian encounters and clashes are particularly notable: revealing and engrossing.
Historical fiction collections and readers interested in a well-done account of early colonial life will find Bloodroot a superior tale that stands out from competing genre reads.”
– Midwest Book Review
“This historical fiction is about the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. The main character, Matthew, leaves England to start a new life only to be met with the need to survive the wilderness and the Powhatan warriors. Well written, intense, graphic.”
– Angie Garza (Educator), NetGalley
Reviews for No Birds Sing Here
5 stars. “No Birds Sing Here by Daniel V. Meier Jr. is the story of a road trip taken by Beckman and a lady he meets by the name of Malany. Both are running from a life they no longer want to lead, and both are frustrated artists. Malany has paid a vanity press to publish her poetry book while her traveling companion is intending to begin writing his first novel, as soon as he receives the inspiration and possibly the experience. Anything has to be better than working in a restaurant with a very strange co-worker and a clutter of yowling cats beneath his window. The journey begins with the premise that if you appear successful, others will believe you are. But plans go awry as the pair meets a cast of unsavory characters who have no affinity for culture, preferring to whore, drink and take drugs. While some passers-by are left behind, others take their place. Beckman is forced to flee on more than one occasion.
My overall impression of No Birds Sing Here by Daniel V. Meier Jr. is a cross between ‘Thelma and Louise’ and Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. No one is quite who they appear, all the characters wear masks, hide their history, and play make-believe with abandon. They also have several brushes with the law, and at times it leaves you wondering if the consequences of their antics will catch up with them. This book falls firmly in the literary category with characters that come to life but behave outside the boundaries followed by the majority of society. There are some real gems here and there, my favorite was ‘… the angry glances of Hispanic maids pushing baby strollers which held the inheritors of vast fortunes.’ I liked the excellent descriptions of small-town America and the story unfolds at a satisfying pace. It’s impossible not to keep reading to find out what will happen to them all in the end. A very different book from Meier’s first novel and an unexpected scenario that lovers of books that dive beneath the perceived surface of society will enjoy.”
– Lucinda E Clarke, Readers’ Favorite
5 stars. “A deeply poignant, engaging read…
Meier offers fascinating glimpse into the journey of two young people struggling to find meaning and reality in their artistic life in this moving tale. Instead of joining his wealthy father’s law firm, the young and rebellious, Beckman, an aspiring novelist, is trying to make end meets working as a dishwasher in a dingy eat-out. But when his path crosses with Malany, a struggling poetess, he realizes he has found a purpose in life. Meier’s prose is lively and absorbing, and his lyrical narrative evokes his protagonists’ desperation and sorrow, as well as their determination to survive. Throughout, his observations of the literary world are conveyed with precise clarity: he skillfully captures the duo’s bleak despair and then slowly, cautiously, traces their fledgling attempts to find some sort of success in their artistic lives. Beckman and Malany dominate the narrative, but even secondary characters emerge fully formed. Lovers of literary fiction and women’s fiction will be greatly rewarded.
“People don’t want poetry or literature. They want celebrities, half-crazy celebrities.
Mix a dram of Hunter Thompson, a dash of Kerouac, a pinch of Tom Wolfe, a sprinkle of Palahniuk, a dab of Salinger, and a heaping spoonful of Scott Fitzgerald. Shake liberally, and what emerges is an urban literary concoction that rises to the level of the best road trip stories ever told. At turns ribald and violent, at others tender and thoughtful, this tale starts mildly enough when Beckman, a disenchanted dishwasher with literary aspirations, flees his dead-end job and his writer’s block to hit the road with Malany, a remarkable poet he encounters at a used book store. He concocts his theatrical plan after they jump out of his dive apartment window and head through the Southeast in her rickety Oldsmobile.
Malany is not impressed with Beckman’s dishonest PR games. But in the interest of selling her stash of vanity-published poetry volumes, she goes along for the ride anyway, funding the trip with her mysterious, cash-filled envelopes. As the mismatched pair travel deeper into Southern literary territory, they cross paths with an assorted cast of clichéd and yet not so clichéd characters, from a tattooed redneck biker to a wealthy sexual predator with pretentious literary fantasies.
Meier’s storytelling hits the ground running with every aspect of literary skill inherent from the first page onward: memorable prose, vivid characterizations, and scenes that move incessantly forward with much rumination about the meaning of life and letters, whether from the viewpoint of gritty pool halls and rancid jail cells or between perfumed sheets in the rarified world of academia. Readers in the mood for a loveless, sexy road trip tale should enjoy this one.”
4 stars. “No Birds Sing Here is a satire that follows two young aspiring authors, Beckman and Malany. The duo tries to escape the mundanity of their everyday lives when one day Beckman decides he has had enough. They flee through an apartment window and hit the road! Along the way, they discuss how they’ll actually make it as writers. And in an effort to get their names out there, they pull some wild antics and play up all the artistic clichés.
Author Daniel V. Meier, Jr. has created a complex plot compared to most satirically driven stories. And there are many highs and lows to this riveting story. Where one part lacks another shines so bright it’s blinding. Meier’s character building left me with mixed emotions. Due to the lack of descriptions of Beckman and Malany, I had a hard time visualizing them in my mind. Although, when it came to the construction of their personalities, I felt that Meier was spot on with details. Within the first few chapters I could tell what kind of people Beckman and Malany were. That also lent to me being able to figure out what their story arcs would be. I appreciate Meier’s sharp satirical take on artists and what their audiences truly want. His incisive portrayal of human desire and all of its clichés is wildly fascinating. With nimble writing and refreshing viewpoints the story gave me off beat poet generation vibes, which I adore. His metaphors mimicked the style of that generation and overall gives the story some color.
No Birds Sing Here is a literary adventure that I heartily enjoyed for its savvy dialogue and intriguing views. But I would have loved to have gotten more backstory within the early pages because the characters are captivating and I wanted more of them. Author Daniel V. Meier gives readers a road trip they won’t soon forget.”
“In this humorous rebuke of faux intellectualism, two misguided individuals set out on a journey to discover what it means to be an artist. Beckman is a wannabe author and psychokinetic who spends his time re-reading his own work, dreaming about the future, and causing trouble. Malany is a poet with manufactured success who maintains a devoted asceticism, abstaining from all forms of excess. Both are fleeing their former lives: Beckman refuses to follow in his lawyer father’s footsteps, while Malany avoids her doting, wealthy husband. The two embark on a transcontinental odyssey, pretending to be established writers in small towns across the U.S. From disapproving rednecks to shallow and hedonistic academics, the couple encounter a cast of characters as lost as they are, unhappy with their circumstances but unable to transcend them.
Meier (The Dung Beetles of Liberia) has written a scathing satire, a critique of empty artistry. Through Beckman and Malany, he explores the identities of two annoyingly inauthentic people. Although a self-professed writer, Beckman never produces anything throughout the story, waiting for the “right” experience to spark his inspiration. Malany, though devoted to her work, is not the radical she appears to be, hiding her true origins to maintain a façade of independence. Because the two main characters are so self-serious, the book is often funny. Even more minor characters put on airs to an amusing extent: A pool shark’s crafted machismo hides the secret of his sexuality, while a professor’s wife playacts as various literary figures. No one is likeable, which limits the novel’s audience but also seems to be the point.
The prose can be flowery (“He sat on the edge, shivering for a long time, steeped in wordless disgust at his present condition in life”), but with Beckman as the protagonist, the oft-pretentious descriptions play as comic. However, less successful sentences (“He pretended anger, but Herschel, with omnificent impenetrability, looked as insular as a priest who had just performed Mass”) can be choppy and difficult to read. For the most part, however, the satire lands, and the story is fast-paced and thought-provoking.
Takeaway: This satirical novel’s social critique swipes amusingly at writerly pretensions and small towns full of secrets.
Great for fans of: Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-“
“This was absolutely remarkable. I started this at 8pm and couldn’t stop until I was finished. The writing was lyrics and engrossing. I can’t even count the number of annotations I made solely based on the fact that lines/paragraphs related to me on such a personal level. Also, I’m a sucker for books that have references to other books/authors so this really landed for me.”
– Megan Burbick, NetGalley
“No Birds Sing Here gives literary readers of satirical fiction the story of Beckman and Malany, who embark on a quest for finding new meaning in life, art, and the trappings of daily living.
Not only satire but irony permeates the story, creating many moments of raw insight and reflection about the rituals of work and leisure alike: “At moments, when feelings of revulsion swept over him, he deliberately, with eyes open, reached into the nearest full garbage can and squeezed between his fingers the raw materials of his livelihood.”
The novel journeys through disparate experiences, from Beckman’s dishwasher job to his reflections about possible other incarnations, which are evocatively portrayed: “Beckman believed that, if it had not been for the paved highway, strictly divided and regulated by white and yellow lines, and for the trash deposited along the grassy shoulders, he could have been in some medieval forest, populated with knights, magicians and beautiful ladies in long gowns and veils suffering some quiet distress of the heart.”
These reflections inject his vision with something more than mundane observations, adding a level of possibility and fantasy that juxtaposes nicely with real-world events.
The dialogue between Beckman and Malany is intriguing, documenting how changing circumstances constantly challenge their choices and provide new consequences for their actions: “You see how quickly things can change, how ironic life really is. A few minutes ago, we were running for our lives. Now we’ve saved the very person who was pursuing us.”
From changing prejudices and responsibilities to life encounters that add satirical overlays of inspection into what evolves to be a loveless life, Daniel V. Meier, Jr. uses these two characters to play off the inherent ironies of appearances and life circumstances.
The observations of others and their situations are also nicely presented: ‘The struggling poetess trying to make it on her own, rejecting the good and warm things of life so that she could write. Beckman had respected her for that above all else. The sincerity, the self-denial, the radicalism and the determination had all been an illusion that she had called, with conviction, ‘reality.”
No Birds Sing Here‘s special blend of literary observation, satirical commentary, and philosophical examination flows through the lives of a group of disparate characters. This makes for thought-provoking reading which is especially recommended as a powerful example of the power of satire and irony in literary fictional approaches.
College-level students, especially those who enjoy representations of these devices paired with a flavor of discovery reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, will find No Birds Sing Here a commendable creation, indeed.”
– Midwest Book Review
Reviews for The Dung Beetles of Liberia
Highly engrossing… In this captivating novel based on true events, Meier intimately describes seven years of Ken Verrier’s life as a transport pilot in Liberia, the richest country in Africa, after the latter drops out of college and leaves America in his quest for identity and to fight his inner demons. Meier’s precise prose is vivid and yet straightforward as he details contrasting lives of the common Liberian population and the privileged Americo-Liberians. A fascinating evocation of 1960s Liberia, the novel explores the commonly accepted system of bribery and the arbitrary division between the masses. It will definitely appeal to fans of literary fiction as well as lovers of non-fiction. An engrossing read that is both informative and entertaining.
5 stars. “The Dung Beetles of Liberia by Daniel V Meier is the story of a young college undergraduate at Cornell who drops out of school to take a job flying planes in Liberia. He leaves behind his astonished family and his almost-fiancée in a bid to escape the demons that plague him over the death of his brother. He’s learned that Liberia is one of the richest countries in Africa and has high expectations of what he will find there. America had repatriated many slaves in the 1800s and established a democracy and infrastructure. What young Kenneth found was the true state of Africa with its own interpretation of life, morals, and ethics. It shocks him to the core. Life is cheap, the hierarchy is absolute, the poor are driven to the point of extinction and he finds himself rubbing shoulders with other hard-drinking, wild and unprincipled expatriates. Kenneth Verrier is a typical young American from a good family who is shocked to the core with what he encounters. Flying small planes delivering equipment to the mines – and a little diamond smuggling on the side – with no attention paid to overloading, air traffic rules, non-existent runways and center of gravity safety regulations. Little by little Kenneth learns to adapt but never loses his humanity. He is a likable hero, and tells his story simply, honestly and clearly.
Since it was written in the first person, I had to research to see if this was a personal memoir. No, but it is based on a true account of life there at the time, which I suspect has changed very little. This is possibly the most honest tale of Africa I have ever read. It may not sound as politically correct as other books set in similar places, but the author brilliantly highlights the cheapness of life, the lack of compassion, the willingness of the poor and downtrodden to accept their lot in life. Many readers may simply not believe the tales told with such pathos and humor but I can assure them that life is as wild and undisciplined as they are recounted. I loved this book, one of the best I have read in a long, long time and find it difficult to believe the author did not spend most of his life in Africa as he has grasped the problems, the customs, and the mindset so truthfully. Highly recommend reading – in fact this should be on the prescribed reading list of every high school as a window on a continent with a different way of life and a different mindset. Welcome to the world of Africa.”
“Ken Verrier is young man who hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up though he is over 21. It’s 1961, and after spending two years at the presdigious Cornell University where he was studying to be a physicist, he decided he wanted to go somewhere warm and be a pilot. He loved flying and is good at it, and with his father’s connections, he got a job flying in Liberia, leaving his family and girl friend Jenny back in the U.S.
Ken is smart and learns quickly, but he was not prepared to meet the numerous challenges of being in Liberia, Africa. The Liberian social structures were different from anything in the U.S. There is a crooked government modeled on the U.S.’, and there are 14 tribes i.e. the Mandingo who have influence and want their place at the table and their practices respected. On top of that, it is post World War II, and there are Nazi’s who fled Germany all over the place. Everyone is out for himself in Liberia–Ken hears this over and over again– and no on can be trusted. This is proven to him when his boss, and the boss after him steal his company blind before they sneek off in the middle of the night. Of course, the natives bear the brunt of poverty and medical support is almost non-existent. Smuggling diamonds is a lucrative but dangerous business. The price of getting caught is usually death.
Meier begins The Dung Beetles of Liberia by discussing the dung beetle. The description of this disgusting creature almost stopped me from reading the book. But I chanced it, and I’m glad I did. The book, a combination of historical and biographical fiction is an expose, done in the first person, that tells what life is like in Liberia. Each chapter describes a vignette of something Meier experienced or someone he met. The dialects are often off putting as the reader struggles to dicipher wha was being said . The reader will soon see that the dung beetle is a metaphor for Liberia–they’re always deep in feces. Still, I learned so very much from reading this. I salute Meier for being brave enough (or foolish enough) to have done this. Just being a white boy in a tumultous black country was exceptional. He made an impact on the people of Liberia. (i.e. Sarah) Meier’s writing is simplistic; his description could have been better, but he got his point across. I highly recommend this book, especially to someone who is interested in the dark continent.
– Mildred Burkett, Affaire de Coeur
“I can’t say for certain that it was a damp, drizzly November of the soul or that I wished to be called Ishmael, but events had reached a turning point.
After his older brother’s tragic death, Ken Verrier drops out of his classes at Cornell University in the summer of 1961 to opt for life as a transport pilot in West Africa. The ever-present dung beetles become a metaphor for the various groups he flies from the capital, Monrovia, and into the bush. All of these groups seem to be seeking to “roll” something out of Liberia. The Americo-Liberians live as “big men” at the top of the national social ladder. The missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers seek to do good. Meanwhile, the diplomats, politicians, international corporations, hustlers, ex-Nazis, and Israeli Nazi-hunters are all scrambling to manifest their agendas and reap profit amidst a mosaic of tribal cultures.
As the young pilot’s dramatic new life plays out in this legendary decade of financial boom reminiscent of America’s expansion into the “Wild West,” it is notable that the civil rights movement and the anti-war protests over America’s involvement in Vietnam are unfolding back home. Nearby, apartheid still has an iron grip on South Africa, making the social strata of independent Liberia under autocratic President William Tubman increasingly fascinating.
The reader will easily forget that this biographical novel is not a memoir. Meier uses the first-person point of view and the highly-detailed, but occasionally episodic, turns of a life recalled to tell this fast-paced historical tale. With a gift for portraying dialect, character quirks, and the intricacies of combining salient details of his youthful adventures with fictional flights of fancy, Meier flies readers on this soaring, literary saga that will leave them clamoring for a sequel.”
– Kate Robinson, The U.S. Review of Books
5 stars. “The cover of this book was my first attraction to it. I was pleased to find, inside its pages, polished writing that kept me wanting to read.
The story has humor, well-written dialogue, tension, and attention to detail in its descriptions.
The Dung Beetles of Liberia is a book well worth reading, and I’m glad I had the chance to check it out.”
– Dr. J. Reads, for NetGalley
“I like reading books that are a bit different. The cover is what attracted me to the book initially – it looked very interesting.. The book is also based on a true story.
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this book or not but I did. The author had a great way of telling it so I would keep on reading. Occasionally I got confused with the timeline and relationships but the story is good.
After Ken’s brother dies, Kenneth doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has lost himself.
Ken was in college, had a beautiful girlfriend until one day he made the shocking announcement that he was leaving.
He did not split with his partner but told her he would be back. He got a job flying airplanes in Liberia, Flying planes is what Ken loves. But as soon as he clapped eyes on another woman I knew he wasn’t keen to go back to his old life.
Life in Liberia is very different – corruption, smugglers and much more. Find out what happens to Ken and how he adjusts to life in Liberia.”
– Louise Emerson, for NetGalley
5 stars. “What happens when one tires of the routine of normal everyday life? Ken Verrier has found himself in this quandary and desires a change. Ken is battling survivor’s guilt due to the untimely death of his brother. Ken feels his family blames him, despite his girlfriend’s reassurances. His father decides to aid Ken in his quest and makes some calls guiding Ken to a new opportunity in Liberia. Ken is employed by a small aviation outfit called Air Africa Services. His job is to fly passengers and cargo throughout Liberia and surrounding regions. Ken is surrounded by German expatriates, who drink heavily, sing the praises of the long dead Hitler, and fret the presence of Israeli spies. The job is fraught with peril, whether dangerous conditions or the possibility of the airline going bankrupt. Ken’s days are filled with white knuckle take offs and teeth gnashing landings. The country of Liberia is ruled with the iron fist of President Tubman, who shares fascist leanings with the minority population, while ruthlessly dealing with detractors. Ken performs his job with aplomb, but he also has to bribe countless officials to carry out his daily tasks while also doling out spare change to the poverty stricken populace he runs into.
Ken flies by day and drinks himself into oblivion by night. The pattern doesn’t waver until he meets Ana, a beautiful young woman who works in the German Embassy. Despite his stateside relationship, Ken is intrigued and smitten with Ana. Unfortunately, Ana’s time in the country is temporary, and Ken contemplates remaining in Liberia. Ken views the country as stable, but signs are indicating trouble on the horizon. As soon as Ken is bidding Ana goodbye, he encounters the bewitching wife of an Israeli official. He is approached with the job of spying on his new boss, while the wife seduces him. The danger is inherent in both activities. Ken’s life is threatened by the continuing battles of the Cold War as well as the environment. The question remains about whether Ken can survive a tropical paradise full of intrigue and betrayal with his sanity intact.
The Dung Beetles of Liberia is a fast paced real life thriller worthy of an action movie. The story weaves drama, dark comedy, and romance throughout a rich tapestry of narration. Daniel Meier captivates his reading audience with his telling of a wayward youth desiring a sense of purpose in a rapidly downward-spiraling world. This is a great read for all to behold.”
– Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review
How do you review or better yet, rate a book that’s based on true events? Especially if you were never a witness of these events?
I am overly critical of books that are set in Africa, because one I am African and two there have been so many tales written that do not depict Africa as a friendly continent. So, believe me when I say that I was skeptical at first and kept reading this book waiting to call out the author on anything I felt offended by.
I had to set the book aside after the first chapter and read it for what the author or any author intends his/her work to be- a story. So, I read it and enjoyed Ken’s insights, he starts off conflicted, the loss of his brother and his yearning for meaningful engagement sees him travel to Liberia. He’s naive and expects the very best of people but he learns that not everyone welcomes struggle or the desire to advance and acquire wealth like he does, and slowly his experiences unravel just how far people can go to get what they want.
– Dora Archie Okeyo for NetGalley
“As The Dung Beetles of Liberia opens, the reader is transported to 1961 where we meet nineteen-year-old Ken Verrier who finds himself at a major crossroads in his young life. He’s in his second year of school at Cornell University, and although he is doing fairly well in his studies, he is far from satisfied with his education and future as a physicist.
Ken yearns to get away, not only from the brutal winters in upstate New York, but to escape a world that has recently faltered due to the death of his brother. He informs his equally shocked parents and girlfriend of his decision, and thanks to a few connections his father has, he obtains a visa and employment as a pilot for an air transport operation in Liberia, West Africa.
A few days later, Ken lands in Liberia, begins his job, and is thrown into a new world that is drastically and often disturbingly dissimilar to what he was used to in America. While he expects this country to be a great match for his future endeavors, thinking he’ll do well because Liberia is reportedly a rich and prosperous country, he quickly comes face-to-face with the stark and brutal realities of life in West Africa. The few rich people have a strong grip and power over the poor masses, and everyone, regardless of economic status, appears to have no regard for ethics or morals as they scratch their way to the top or merely cling onto anything for survival. Ken is also exposed to a motley crew of people, including a few foreigners, particularly paranoid ex-Nazis, political dignitaries, international businessmen, local tribesmen, and even the Peace Corps, who all seem to have a similar agenda, to squeeze the most possible out of the land and the people, at any cost.
The Dung Beetles of Liberia follows the main character from a naive young man escaping the demons of his past, through his years of living and working in Liberia. His time in Liberia is filled with heart-pounding tales of often narrowly escaping sudden disaster and sometimes humorous bits of his escapades that takes readers on a wild adventure, making one feel as if they are right there in the seat next to Ken. But will Ken Verrier become a changed man, getting sucked into the endless corruption that is now a part of his life, or will he manage to escape the evils that surround him and maintain his integrity throughout his time in Liberia?
Readers should note that The Dung Beetles of Liberia may appear to be a memoir, but as it states on the cover, it is a “novel based on true events.” It is much more than a simple accounting of a life spent in West Africa, it is a story about a young white man’s coming-of-age, set in the backdrop of a real country experiencing a tumultuous time in their history. In fact, the author has created a unique blend of memoir and historical fiction that will capture your attention from the beginning, and fly you through the pages until the very end. While the writing is polished and flows well, some of the characters’ development could be a bit more fleshed out. In particular, this reader felt that Ken Verrier’s girlfriend needed something more substantial, and was left dangling at the end of her part in the story. However, with that said, this novel, because of its excellent writing, likable characters, and a riveting, page-turning story-line should not be missed by anyone.
Quill says: The Dung Beetles of Liberia is not only an engaging read, but an eye-opening education on life in 1960’s Liberia as experienced by a young American pilot.”
– Lynette Latzko, Feathered Quill
5 stars. “In 1961, Ken Verrier is a sophomore studying physics at Cornell when his brother, Arthur, dies unexpectedly in a car accident. Wracked with blame, Ken can’t seem to forgive himself for the fact that Arthur was on his way to pick him up from a party when it happened. Deciding he needs a change, Ken works out a plan to spend some time in West Africa and put his commercial pilot’s license to good use. His father helps him land on Liberia, which, at the time, was quickly developing into a booming hub for commerce—and with that, he’s off. Initially, Liberian life takes a lot of getting used to, but after settling in, Ken learns how to adapt to Africa’s numerous daily obstacles, whether it’s political bribery, dubious roommates, or insect-borne diseases. Throughout Ken’s seven years there, he flies countless air transports, leading to humorous and horrifying altercations alike, and lending an intimate look at Liberia’s rapidly changing economic and social climate that few others at the time were granted.
Daniel Meier Jr.’s The Dung Beetles of Liberia is packed with artful and observant touches that will firmly plant readers inside Liberia’s tumultuous environment. Endless elements of description lend warmth—and in some cases, terror—to a cast of charmingly idiosyncratic characters hailing from all over the world. At heart, the novel is a study in contrasts, asking us to examine what it means to be safe or in harm’s way, rich or poor, lost or found, and how, in time, those categorizations come to inform our entire worldview. This story is for anyone who has ever felt the relentless pull of wanderlust, and wondered what it would be like to lose themselves entirely in another land.”
“Firstly, I must say the title is excellent. There’s nothing better than a cleverly thought-out, enticing title that’s sort of ‘out of the box’. A wonderful title like this suggests to me the book is going to be pretty wonderful too. And I’m delighted to say, it is!
So, let’s begin with the plot. Basically, the story follows a young man who, in the 1960s, suddenly jets of to Africa to work as a pilot. What follows is a well-plotted mix of oddball characters and a lot of (very) short takeoffs and landings. Ken, the (sort of) hero of the story is in many ways not a hero at all. In fact, in many ways, he’s a bit of a selfish git. But he’s on a steep learning curve in this well-paced novel. There’s a long, long list of elements to this story, from political bribery to falling in love, from the Cold War to drinking and flying. And it’s all written with a gold-tipped pen.
As it happens, I’m a pilot myself with thousands of hours in my logbook. So I very much enjoyed the ‘flying’ elements to the story. And, from what I remember, the author’s got it right in terms of the technical aspects of flying and the way a pilot feels when he/she is trying to put the plane down on a short strip of runway. In all all, this is a fun, exciting, often unpredictable adventure. The writing is pacey with a good mix of ‘showing the setting’ and ‘keep things moving’. Personally, I felt the author was most comfortable with the flying parts, and not so much on any love interest Ken had or, indeed,the growing political problems of the country. But there’s plenty in here to keep any reader interested, particularly if they have an interest in African history and also happen to enjoy a thrilling, often gritty adventure. Enjoy!”
“The cover of this book is intriguing, and indeed, the plot and characters pull the reader in to the compelling and sometimes disturbing world of a developing African country. The book often reads like non-fiction, and like the best of non-fiction it has pace, a picaresque protagionist, and draws the reader into a world of danger and challenges. The well-crafted setting, a rather raw and surprising one, allows the characters to grow and establish themselves, and the relationships create a realistic frame of reference for connections among the characters. The more we read about them, the more we want to know what happens next, and the more we are drawn into the challenges of their lives. This book is boldly realistic but at the same time creates stark characters whose stories we don’t want to lose; I read this book on a very long airplane ride, and I was ever so grateful to have it to accompany me.”
– Jane Abbott (Educator)