On a lonely stretch of Utah highway you'll find The Never-Open Desert Diner
The Never-Open Desert Diner (#1 Winters) by James Anderson
Genre: General Fiction, Mystery
Published 2015, 295 pages
Billed as a mystery, and it is.....sort of. There is definitely a mystery but it's quiet, like the book. Short and to the point, the book is a quick read but with substance. It's not action packed; it's not a sweet romance; it's not a complex mystery with lots of twists.
Instead, this book is one filled with excellent, quirky characters and a story that moves steadily along, keeping me engrossed the whole way. Set in Utah along a remote section of highway through the desert, Ben Winters is a one-man trucking outfit, making deliveries to the loners and remote households along the highway. Ben is on the verge of going bankrupt and losing his truck and livelihood.
"I was no one, doing a nothing job a hundred miles up the asshole of nowhere."
As he travels up and down the highway, we're introduced to a mix of characters, all fiercely guarding their privacy - after all, they live in such remote areas for a reason. We learn just enough about them to get hints about why they prefer their off-the-grid lives. Then Ben notices a mysterious new woman taking up residence in a deserted, incomplete housing development. As they become acquainted, he gradually learns her back story and starts to wonder if her appearance has something to do with the odd occurrences that have suddenly popped up. And, of course, a romance develops.
"The highway lolled ahead in the sunlight. It was mine and it made me happy. It didn't bother me that it was mine because no one else wanted it."
I loved the striking setting of this novel. I lived in Utah for a few years and the descriptions of the highway brought back memories of the rugged, beautiful landscape south of Salt Lake City.
I really enjoyed getting to know Ben Winters, a fully realized, complex character that I believed. The mysterious woman love interest and Walt, the taciturn diner owner, were intriguing and good additions though not nearly as fully developed. We are given just enough bits and pieces about the various other bit-part characters to make them interesting but not to get invested in their lives.
"Why don't people with money and power realize that when they screw around with the little guy, when they don't have to - especially when it's a little guy like me with not a damn thing to lose - sometimes the little guy is just going to get pissed off and stubborn up? It was all I could do and I was sure as hell going to do it."
If you're looking for a hard bitten, actual mystery, you might be disappointed in this book. While there is a bit of a mystery - where did the mysterious woman come from, who's after her and why? - for me, it's not the best part of the story. Ben and his quiet life on the highway is the best part. Read this book for the characters and the smooth storytelling.
photos by Terrie Purkey (Bryce Canyon, Utah)