The Never-Open Desert Diner, by James Anderson (2016)

The Never-Open Desert DinerI love the Utah desert – its canyons and cliffs, spectacular skies both night and day, and the plants and animals that thrive in a landscape of red earth and yellow sand, deadly drought and killing floods. Short-haul trucker Ben Jones struggles to make a living on his route along Highway 117 out of Price, the small city between Salt Lake City and the hiking/biking mecca of Moab. Ben delivers motorcycle parts, butter-brickle ice cream and anything else ordered by the isolated folks on his route. They include the Lacey brothers who live in abandoned boxcars, Preach and his imaginary cigarettes, and the irascible Walt Butterfield, who keeps the diner spotless and polished but hasn’t served a customer in nearly 40 years. Damaged folks, fugitives, homeless, faithful and faithless – Ben delivers all both goods and a hand of friendship, but he’s a poor businessman and the bills are piling up. When he discovers a woman playing a stringless cello in an otherwise empty house near the diner, he is startled and intrigued to know more. What he learns is that secrets are everywhere in the desert, and that people will do almost anything to protect the ones they love. Ben is a youngish, rather philosophical fellow who fits right into the desert milieu. He stays out of others’ business, but stands up for his friends, generally keeps his fists by his side, and puts people ahead of stuff. This is Anderson’s first novel, and overall, it’s a strong contribution. Authentic dialogue adds complexity to characters who might otherwise be predictable. The plot develops slowly in an unforgiving environment, providing a layered and textured reading of a story that is only partly a mystery. It does get a bit convoluted at the end, with a strange introduction of a Chinese mobster that doesn’t really go anywhere. And while the landscape is a key element, where are the desert animals? Not a snake, rabbit, coyote, hawk or even a lizard appear in this story, which I find strange. These minor complaints don’t detract from a quietly compelling, haunting story of passion, duty, and revenge. And don’t be surprised if you start thinking about a hiking holiday in the desert hills. My thanks to Crown Publishing for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel:


About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: