Leave No Choice

Leave No Trace by A.J. Landau (Jon Land and Jeff Ayers)

Reviewed by Russel Ilg

LEAVE NO TRACE, the latest thriller from Jon Land writing under the pseudonym A. J. Landau, is subtitled “A National Parks Thriller” for good reason. The book opens with a domestic terrorist attack on the Statue of Liberty and ramps up from there with more of America’s most iconic parks, monuments and memorials in the crosshairs.  Purchase Here.

If you think that’s all, though, you haven’t read a Jon Land book in a while. He teams here with fellow thriller maven Jeff Ayers who just happens to be an expert on all things National Parks. Adding that bite of reality to a heavy dose of knife-edged action makes this not just a surefire pick for best thriller of 2024, but also the most relevant. See, the bad guys, most notably a white nationalist general, are targeting America’s icons because they intend to burn the country down and rebuild it from scratch. Viewed from that perspective, LEAVE NO TRACE reads like a harbinger of what might truly be in store for the United States if we continue down the road we’re on.

Leading the charge to prevent that is the stalwart team of park service Investigative Services Branch agent Michael Walker and the FBI’s Gina Delgado who’s second-in-command at the FBI’s New York field office. Walker and Delgado cast aside their early jurisdictional squabbles to form a brave and able pair, as determined to stop the carnage as the villains are to murder ten million Americans in the centerpiece of their plan.

The action winds from Liberty Island, to Independence Hall, the Gateway Arch, and Zion National Park, before finally climaxing at Wind Cave National Park. Oh, and there’s also a flashback sequence on Mount Rainier where Michael lost both his wife and left foot in a violent confrontation with serial killers picking victims from park grounds. If you know your thrillers, you’ve probably already figured there’s more to that tragedy than meets the eye, ultimately forming the book’s biggest twist among many.

The fact that Michael has a prosthetic foot renders him the only current disabled hero in thriller fiction today, if memory serves. He’s the ultimate underdog, totally overmatched by the bad guys he’s taking on and yet able to prevail through a combination of guts, guile and knowledge of the rattlesnakes that call Zion National Park home. For her part, Gina serves up a comparable complement of gravitas and grit, especially in a harrowing sequence when she spirits the country’s first female president out of harm’s way and then must continue to protect her alone, since there’s no one left she can fully trust.

LEAVE NO TRACE is a rip-roaring, no-holds-barred thriller of the highest order that mines today’s political climate for a tale that should feel over the top, but instead flashes a bright red warning sign. That helps makes this series debut a stunning, truly terrifying triumph of pitch perfect storytelling, begging to be read in a single sitting. It’s the Super Bowl of thrillers where genre fans come out the biggest winners.

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