Campus abductions, car chases, pursuits on foot through Byrd Stadium and a disturbance to the serenity of the university’s Memorial Chapel – that’s what readers can expect in Jon K. Elliott’s latest mystery novel, On the Run in College Park.
Published in September, the novel takes place on College Park’s campus, exploring the complexities of relationships between students and Christianity and Islam, all influenced by current events.
“This is a novel about terrorists,” said Elliott, a former naval officer who spent more than 10 years in the D.C. Metropolitan area before retiring in Lexington, K.Y. “There’s also been a lot of national focus on Muslims and I wanted to kind of put realism into perspective in the view of readers – that not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslim.”
With the D.C. Metropolitan’s large population and different means of transportation – including three major airports, the metro transit system and Amtrak – Elliott, who was stationed at the Pentagon for three years, said D.C. is a prime target for terrorism.
Knowing this, the author searched for a location nearby, and with UMD’s large, Elliott decided College Park was the ideal setting for his mystery novel to unfold.
On the Run in College Park centers around four students.
Ahmed, an international student from Morocco, is owner and partner of a charity that raises funds for an orphanage in Iraq. Ahmed becomes infatuated with Nadira, an American-born Muslim student and Queen’s Hall resident, who is finding it difficult to relate to her Christian roommate, Lauren. Lauren then reaches out to a campus organization and finds Tom, who becomes her mentor, and the four become interconnected.
The mystery begins once terrorists attempt to jeopardize Ahmed’s work with his charity organization, and Nadira is attacked.
The action builds from there, said Elliott, who spent three years writing the book.
Much of the time was spent on character development and research, he said, which meant several visits to the university’s campus to get an accurate visual for the novel.
“Having spent a lot of time in the area, I was familiar with the place, and I felt comfortable writing about it, although I had to make several trips to the campus to get the dormitory and streets right,” Elliott said.
“It was surprising because before I actually made my first trip, I didn’t realize it was such a hilly campus,” Elliott said. “I walked the dormitories and squares. Once I visited a couple times, I could visualize very well where [the characters] were living walking to and running to.”
As for developing his characters, Elliott used his personal experience as a child of a family of six and interaction with military personnel. And if there’s one thing he knows well, he said, it’s people.
“A lot of my experiences help me understand people,” Elliott said. “And so I tried to make my characteristics realistic. No superheroes. No beautiful. No handsome. Just people who had their own fears, they’re own idiosyncrasies. Characters that were able to do courageous and honorable things despite their fears.”
Besides tackling topics of terrorism and stereotypes about Islam and Christianity in his novel, Elliott said he aimed to write a compelling story above all.
“I think mystery writers and thriller writers really can’t expect much more,” Elliott said. “It’s a form of entertainment. The more compelling the story, the more successful the author is.”
Readers will have the opportunity to meet Elliott on March 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., during a book signing at Ten Ren’s Tea Time in College Park.
Brittany Britto is a graduate student and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.