The Never Open Desert Diner

3 minute read

Ben Jones drives a truck in southern Utah. He’s damn near broke, about to lose his truck, and his best friend is Walt, an old guy who owns a diner that’s never open and barely speaks to him (think a grumpy Robert Duval).

Ben is a pretty normal blue collar guy, but with an occasional penchant for the philosophical:

Below that was a rising shiver of cold desperation. Things had to change. I wanted them to change. Like most people who said they wanted change, all I wanted was enough change to keep everything the same, only better.

The Never-Open Desert Diner

BEN JONES, the protagonist of James Anderson s haunting debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner (Caravel Books, February, 2015), is on the verge of losing his small trucking company. A single, thirty-eight-year-old truck driver, Ben s route takes him back and forth across one of the most desolate and beautiful regions of the Utah desert. The orphan son of a Native American father and a Jewish social worker, Ben is drawn into a love affair with a mysterious woman, Claire, who plays a cello in the model home of an abandoned housing development in the desert. Her appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, reignites a decades-old tragedy at a roadside café referred to by the locals as The Never-Open Desert Diner. The owner of the diner, Walt Butterfield, is an embittered and solitary old man who refuses to yield to change after his wife s death. Ben s daily deliveries along the atmospheric and evocative desert highway bring him into contact with an eccentric cast of characters that includes: John, an itinerant preacher who drags a life-sized cross along the blazing roadside; the Lacey brothers, Fergus and Duncan, who live in boxcars mounted on cinderblocks; and Ginny, a pregnant and homeless punk teenager whose survival skills make her an unlikely heroine. Ben s job as a truck driver is more than a career; it is a life he loves. As he faces bankruptcy and the possible loss of everything that matters to him, he finds himself at the heart of a horrific crime that was committed forty years earlier and now threatens to destroy the lives of those left in its wake. Ben discovers the desert is relentless in its grip, and what the desert wants, it takes. An unforgettable story of love and loss, Ben learns the enduring truth that some violent crimes renew themselves across generations. The Never-Open Desert Diner is a unique blend of literary mystery and noir fiction that evokes a strong sense of place. It is a story that holds the reader and refuses to let go and will linger long after the last page.

Walt is the owner of The Never Open Desert Diner, which author James Anderson places on Route 117, crossing route 191 near Price. Having lived in Utah and driven 191 down to Moab many times, I can only think Mr. Anderson is toying with us, as 117 and 191 don’t cross so far as I know. There is an old diner (my friend Thomas says it was the Sky Cafe Diner between Spanish Fork and Price, which might have been the inspiration?).

Except for that, Anderson gets southern Utah almost pitch perfect. The silence of the desert, it’s emptiness and it’s deadly beauty if you’re not prepared for it. The quick change from a clear sky to ominous clouds to a thundering, drenching rainstorm in a matter of minutes.

Never Open Diner starts pretty prosaically, but soon Ben is wandering into an abandoned house in the desert and stumbling upon a naked woman playing a cello with no strings. It feels like it’s about to become an urban fantasy (well rural fantasy) novel, but it actually never becomes unreal, just a fun ride involving a mysterious woman, a horrible event, a film producer and a stolen cello. There’s a great cast of characters, by turns intriguing, infuriating and enchanting.

It’s really good fun.

You can find more here:–by–James-Anderson–100720

(I received an advance reader copy of this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program)