Jay Roberts

Leave No Trace
by A.J. Landau
Minotaur Books, February 2024, $28

Leave No Trace, the first novel in the National Parks thriller series, wastes little time in drawing readers into the action. After all, what reader wouldn't be riveted to the page when the Statue of Liberty is blown up in the very first scene of the book!?

This "debut" novel from author A. J. Landau (the pseudonym of writers Jon Land and Jeff Ayers) introduces readers to Special Agent Michael Walker of the National Parks Service, a character who refuses to back down in in the face of overwhelming odds. When we meet Walker, he has been handed a double tragedy: a physical disability and the death of his wife (by an enemy with the political clout to make Walker's life miserable and twist the blame of the death back onto Walker). Once a park ranger before the accident, he now works investigating crimes that take place in the numerous national parks across the United States.

So when he gets the call about Lady Liberty and heads to New York, he's the agent in charge of the scene—that is until the other alphabet agencies get involved in the attack's aftermath. This includes FBI Agent Gina Delgado, who shunts Walker aside for a lack of security clearance. Being sidelined gives the Parks Service agent an unexpected advantage, though, when he ends up running into a crucial bit of evidence...a witness!

As Michael works to stay involved in the case, Walker soon finds himself working with Delgado, the two attempting to protect their witness and his video evidence. Delgado's initial resistance to Walker's involvement set aside, their teamwork makes for an interesting second half of the story. And with her own backstory that lends special insight into the case, Delgado stands out just as much as her partner.

Meanwhile, the action heats up with more attacks across the country on America's cultural landmarks by homegrown terrorists led by the singularly named Jeremiah. To his credit, Landau manages to make Jeremiah and his followers believable—they don't seem like cartoonish central casting characters.

From high-intensity fire fights with terrorists to survival scenes as nature is unleashed, Landau brings to bear any number of gripping set pieces that provide readers with a taut conspiracy, explosive confrontations, and fraught scenes as Michael Walker and Gina Delgado work to uncover the truth. The fast and furious Leave No Trace manages to announce the arrival of this new thriller voice with authority and should leave readers begging for more.