By Lynn Willoughby
The Never-Open Desert Diner ~ James Anderson
Ben is a humble, honest, hard working, very kind truck driver. He has been delivering goods along his stretch of 117 in Utah for over twenty years. He know everyone, their habits, their secrets, their personalities. He lives alone in this remote desert region where the only landmark for miles is the once famous roadside diner that hasn’t been open for years.
This area is a haven for fugitives, eccentrics who carry solid oak crosses up and down the highway, the owner of the diner who repairs vintage motorcycles, and various odd characters who only want to be left alone. Ben is often their only contact with the outside world. These people don’t pick up their mail, don’t socialize, have no TV and there is never cell phone reception. They are practically invisible – until they are not!
This is a mystery that builds slowly, but we know there is more coming and tension builds too. When Ben stumbles across Claire playing a cello in an almost invisible, sand covered, abandoned housing development his life is turned upside down. He knows she has a past. He wonders how she got here. But Ben is drawn to her for reasons he can’t explain. When strange coincidences and strange people jangle his warning bells he is afraid for his stretch of 117 and the sanctuary it provides.
I really liked this book. It has its moments of humour, heart break, the story of Ben’s lonely life and how he got to be there. There is a sad and tragic rape, unexpected kindnesses and most of all I loved the weird and eccentric people. And I didn’t like it any better than Ben when their quiet, their refuge was about to be disturbed.
Nearing the end of the book, I thought – “Oh no, this is way too predictable.” Imagine my surprise when dangerous men, the Chinese mafia, insurance fraud investigators and flash floods turn Ben’s world and the desert itself on its head. The end was a complete surprise and I look forward to reading more by this author. I leave you with this quote …”A Jewish Native American half-breed orphan playing the bagpipes wasn’t the sort of impression I ever wanted to make.”
The Dreport Stradivarius cello was made in 1711. In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte asked the owner if he could play the instrument. When Bonaparte couldn’t produce the sound it wanted he mishandled the cello and left dents from his boots in the body, which are still visible today.