Blog Post Linda Coutant Feb 20, 2024

Fictional Heroes Saving Parks

What if a radical domestic terrorist group sought to destroy national parks? NPCA interviews the fiction writers of “Leave No Trace,” an action thriller set in iconic places people value and adore.  

NPCA member and retired public research librarian Jeff Ayers loves national parks — and he also enjoys reading action thrillers. Frustrated that he never had been able to find a novel that combined his two fascinations, he decided to write one.

“I’ve been a national park fanatic since I was a little kid and my grandmother took me to Yellowstone. Visiting national parks is something I always love to do because each place is such a unique experience,” said Ayers, who lives in Seattle. He said he got involved with NPCA when the previous administration sought to remove protections from Bears Ears National Monument and he wanted to “fight that injustice.”

On Feb. 27, Minotaur Books will release “Leave No Trace,” Ayers’ collaboration with bestselling author Jon Land under the pseudonym A.J. Landau — a domestic terrorism thriller that opens with the toppling of the Statue of Liberty. The plot takes Special Agent Michael Walker of the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch on the case to other national parks: Gateway Arch, Zion, Wind Cave, Independence Hall and other sites.

Jeff Ayers, author

Jeff Ayers, author and NPCA member.

camera icon Courtesy of Jeff Ayers

“Leave No Trace” educates while it entertains — each chapter begins with an interesting fact about the parks. The plot also touches on issues of eminent domain and climate change. The authors dedicated the book to Park Service employees in appreciation for the work they do to protect the nation’s iconic landscapes and sites of cultural and historical significance.

Last year, mystery/thriller/crime was the most popular fiction genre among readers, accounting for 32% of sales, according to, a website of market data reports. “Leave No Trace,” a title mirroring the federal message to protect wild lands, is the first in what the writers said will become a series of thrillers based in national parks. Similar to Nevada Barr’s mystery series featuring park ranger heroine Anna Pigeon, the Landau writings are designed to give the beauty of national parks center stage.

Jon Land, author

Author Jon Land.

camera icon Rayzor Bachand

“The parks have never looked as beautiful as they do when contrasted against the evil that invades them,” Land said about the plot of “Leave No Trace,” in which the villain seeks to destroy the United States.

“When you attack a national park, you stick a dagger into the heart of America,” Land continued. Action thrillers “are about heroes saving lives. But here, the heroes are also saving parks.”

Land, who lives in Rhode Island, has authored more than 50 books, most of them in the thriller genre. He also penned a few in the “Murder, She Wrote” book series based on the 1980s CBS television show. Ayers has been a book reviewer, wrote “Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion” and serves as co-executive director of ThrillerFest, an annual conference of the International Thriller Writers.

The two men met through ThrillerFest nearly 20 years ago. When Ayers got the idea for a national parks thriller, he said he turned to Land to help him bring his concept to life.

Unlike Ayers, Land knew very little about national parks. For “Leave No Trace,” the pair researched the parks extensively, interviewing and shadowing park rangers and Investigative Services Branch agents.

“When you attack a national park, you stick a dagger into the heart of America.” – author Jon Land

“What we want to shine through the (series of) books is a love of national parks, love of the people who work in them and what they do,” explained Ayers, “because I can’t think of another job where you have to do customer service, you have to be knowledgeable in the area, you have to be a janitor and you have to be a cop.”

One of the most surprising facts the writers learned about parks, they said, was the high number of visits to them: 312 million recreation visits in 2022.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall in Philadelphia

camera icon © Boris Hudak/Dreamstime

“There are as many visits to national parks as there are Americans. That statistic is off the charts. In comparison, Disney parks combined attract about 20 million. What was I missing?” Land said he asked himself when he learned the popularity of national parks.

After visiting and researching national parks, Land said he now reveres them. They are “living, breathing characters” with a life and spirit of their own, he added.

By book’s end, will these iconic landscapes and cultural symbols of the United States remain safe?

“If you love thrillers and you’re a fan of national parks, this book is a great mixture of them both,” Ayers said. “We’ve created something I think everyone would enjoy.”

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About the author

  • Linda Coutant Staff Writer

    As staff writer on the Communications team, Linda Coutant manages the Park Advocate blog and coordinates the monthly Park Notes e-newsletter distributed to NPCA’s members and supporters.