Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

It's not easy to write a review of a book when one of your best friends adores it. So, I won't. Or, I won't provide one of my normal reviews for James Anderson's The Never-Open Desert Diner. My friend, Kaye Wilkinson Barley, is "an evangelist" for this novel. In fact, when we were on a panel at Bouchercon, Kaye mentioned the book about three times, just as I mentioned Glen Erik Hamilton's books.

If you want to read what Kaye said on Meanderings and Muses, it's here. I appreciated the book, and Ben Jones, the protagonist. But, I'm not the wordsmith that Kaye is, and I wasn't quite as passionate about it.

Here's my summary. As I said, if you want a passionate review, check out Kaye's. Ben Jones is a trucker whose route is a lonely stretch of State Route 117 in Utah. He drives and delivers freight to those people who have reasons to disappear or isolate themselves in the desert. Walt Butterfield and his "The Well-Known Desert Diner" becomes the link to the first major change in Ben's routine. Nearby, Ben happens upon a house he never noticed before, and a woman, Claire, whose mysterious past brings unwanted attention to Ben. Once Claire is in the desert, a number of unsavory characters seem to be watching. Ben, a man with his own mysterious beginnings, delights in keeping those watchers in suspense, while he tries to protect the few people he's allowed in his life.

Ben Jones is one of those white knights who appear as a trope in literature, loyal and determined. And, Anderson's debut novel is beautiful. This is a book to read to savor the language, and the way Anderson uses words and phrases. There's a mysticism to the book. What is real, and what isn't? But, that's part of the magic of the desert itself. Ben ruminates that everything is on loan, and, in the desert, everything is given back to the desert. As a former resident of Arizona, I found myself focusing on the desert itself, the light, the loneliness, the unique people that inhabit the area on State Route 117.

In James Anderson's The Never-Open Desert Diner, he creates an atmospheric world inhabited by a small group of individuals. Ben Jones, even more than the diner, is the link to these people and their hopes to remain anonymous and hidden. When the outside world intrudes, there's a disturbance in the desert universe.

I can see why Kaye, a writer herself, was drawn to this beautifully written novel. It's a book for a wordsmith, a novel for other writers to appreciate. I know just the writer who will appreciate this gift.

James Anderson's website is

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson. Broadway Books. 2016. ISBN 9781101906903 (paperback), 295p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.


Kaye Barley said...

I am indeed an evangelist for this book, and I love that you read it based on my recommendation. And you are exactly right in identifying why I love it so much. James Anderson uses words like a true artist. Like the poet he is. It's a talent I love, appreciate and envy. And you sweet woman - thank you for being you and being the sister of my heart that you are. You always say things that touch my heart an make me cry. You do know my heart.
Hugs, Lesa

Lesa said...

Sending hugs, Kaye. And, I did the right thing by the book and by the author. I passed it on to another writer. I hope he appreciates the words and language as much as you do.

Kaye Barley said...

I hope so too - let me know, please!

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