Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: "The Never-Open Desert Diner" by James Anderson

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for making it available!

This book snuck up on me and both charmed and utterly fascinated me.

Ben Jones has been a trucker in Utah for some time now, traveling up and down Route 117 in the desert. It's a fairly solitary existence he's eked out for himself—during his workdays he interacts periodically with some of his customers, but there's a reason they live off of a little-traveled road in the desert, and most are not really the type for socializing beyond general niceties.

Along Ben's route is a somewhat-famous diner, often used as scenery in movies. The diner is rarely if ever open, ever since the diner's owner experienced a painful tragedy there a number of years before. But Walt, the diner's cantankerous, tough-as-nails owner, and Ben have a lukewarm relationship, and he is one of the few people Ben might consider a friend.

One day on his route Ben comes upon a solitary home that was probably used as a prototype for a never-built housing development. It's a beautiful home, and it catches his attention, although not as much as the beautiful woman he sees inside the house, silently playing the cello. She fascinates him, and he wants to get to know her, even as he knows it probably would be a mistake. And when he learns that this woman, Claire, is hiding from her husband and events in her past, he is convinced even more that he should avoid her. But she has gotten under his skin, and he wants to be with her.

He can't get Claire out of his mind, and she is slowly warming up to him. Then he suddenly begins catching the attention of mysterious people, including a woman appearing in different guises in the fairly solitary desert community and an earnest, young reality show producer who has allegedly taken interest in Ben. He worries about Claire being found by those who are looking for her, but he should worry more about himself, because he unexpectedly winds up under suspicion of several crimes.

What, or whom, is Claire really running from? What brought her to the desert? And what happened in the diner all those years ago? The Never-Open Desert Diner is a book about secrets and the danger they bring, and it's also a book about loneliness, how it can be both comforting and depressing. It's also a book about love—romantic, parental, filial—and the lengths we go to in order to protect it.

James Anderson is an excellent storyteller and he created some really memorable characters. Ben was really fascinating, as were many of the supporting characters in this book. I loved how Anderson gave us some insight into a number of these people, fleshing them out as more than just people wanting to protect their solitude. This is a mysterious, insightful, thought-provoking book that definitely evoked some emotions as well. I really enjoyed this one.

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