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The Never-Open Desert Diner

(Ben Jones #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,957 ratings  ·  504 reviews
A singularly compelling debut novel, about a desert where people go to escape their past, and a truck driver who finds himself at risk when he falls in love with a mysterious woman.

Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-travelled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others look
Hardcover, 295 pages
Published March 22nd 2016 by Crown (first published February 15th 2015)
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,957 ratings  ·  504 reviews

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Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Ben drives a truck over route 117, the people that live there are different and it's his calling to deliver the stuff that they feel they need because no one else will. A couple of odd brothers who live in some abandoned box cars and request barb wire and cases of hormel chili. A guy that carries an actual cross before he delivers his desert sermons and Walt who owns the Desert Diner. That hasn't opened since 1987. Ben is about to lose his home and his truck lease though because he is dead broke ...more
James Thane
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
This is a mystery novel unlike virtually any other--original, and captivating with a very intriguing cast of characters. At the center of the book is Ben Jones, a thirty-eight year-old trucker who runs a one-man outfit, hauling freight up and down an isolated highway in the middle of the Utah desert.

The illegitimate son of a Jewish mother and and American Indian father, Ben lives alone, has no friends to speak of, and is at the end of his rope financially. He hasn't made a profit in years, if e
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List


Sometimes I read blurbs to books and think they sound like something I would like.. sometimes I'm wrong and I don't like them as much, other times I'm shocked at how much I love them. This is one of those books. I fell in love with the book and so many of the characters. It's not some big action book, it's not some big romance book, it's just a book about the lives of people that are pretty much living off the grid or trying to get by. It's about things that
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

3.5 Stars

The amount of ratings on Goodreads combined with my own experience reading The Never-Open Desert Diner has me thinking the marketing for this book failed epically. Here’s my advice to anyone sitting on the fence about this one. Don’t read the synopsis and ignore the “mystery” moniker and you will probably have a fine time.

While there was a bit of mystery to be unraveled, readers specifically looking for a mystery novel might f
Mar 11, 2016 rated it liked it
A copy was furnished to me by Net Galley in exchange for a review.

Secrets smolder amongst the sparse sprinkling of souls who live in the areas off Highway 117. These folks are off the beaten path, off the grid, for reasons best kept to themselves. With no mailboxes, no real addresses, there is no postal service, UPS, or Fed Ex delivery available. Ben Jones, owner and driver of Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service, has made their oddball deliveries for years.

The inhabitants found along this route
Tim The Enchanter
Posted to The Literary

Striking Setting, Confused Plotting

The Never-Open Desert Diner is billed as a literary crime mystery. If slow and plodding is all it takes to be considered "literary" then it hits the mark. It had all of makings of an excellent novel. A striking setting, a unique and interesting protagonist, a mysterious love interest and, initially the buildup of intrigue. In the end, the novel was a victim of its own potential and unraveled at a disastrous pace.

Plot Summa
Larry H
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

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 custo
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this book because it interested me when I saw it on the Tournament of Books long list, and I had not heard of it before. I enjoyed it far more than I expected!

Things to like:
-various people puzzles like the woman in the house and the diner owner
-the small universe of a one-man trucking organization on a small stretch of highway
-the characters were all there for a reason
-the use of landscape
-the ending
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read and memorable. In fact, this and "Last Night at the Lobster" are the only two I can remember in recent years that nail the working class "day" in any faction of a minutia - any true detail of reality.

But do not assume that it is a simple tale. It's also, for me it was, a difficult read. Simplicity is complex here. Very! And with all that description and movement to changes of location within the Utah 117 Route and outback desert canyon and arroyo? Mirage or real? This is not a fa
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-favorites
“The Never-Open Desert Diner” is one of those books I want to tell everyone about (and I will!) There is crime and mystery involved, but to limit the description to that does a severe injustice to the book. Mr. Anderson writes unforgettable characters, and the plot is a little like those winding desert roads because you find yourself totally compelled to discover what’s around the next bend. There are profound observations about life, death, grief, love, isolation, making a life in harsh conditi ...more
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I didn't think I'd like The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson. It's desert almost-noir tone seemed like it would become irritating. The characters seemed like they would be stereotypes.
But I was (happily) surprised. Although the tone sometimes did irritate me and the characters were slightly stereotypical, I loved the book.

The desert is presented beautifully, one of the truest characters in the entire novel. And Ben Jones, a self-employed trucker about to lose his truck and his business
Diane S ☔
Have decided to stop reading this one. It has taken a turn to the weird, doesn't make sense, and I dislike some of the scenes, actions.
Tori (InToriLex)
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

This was a quirky exploration of people with dark secrets and memorable flaws. Ben Jones is an engaging protagonist, who feels comfortable with people hiding themselves because his own history is a mystery. He was left by his Mother and raised by adopted parents, but theorizes he is Native American and Jewish. Ben makes light of the bizarre people he encounters while delivering packages, to people who don't keep actual mailing addresses. The peculiar cha
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-borrowed
Out in the High Utah Desert

Anderson’s Never-Open Desert Diner is one of those amazing books that defies categorization. His writing is so compelling that it doesn’t matter what shelf you stick it on. You might say the main character is independent trucker Ben who treks back and forth across Highway 117 all the way till it ends at Rockmuse delivering to the shut-ins and hermits that left the crowded coasts behind to burrow into their lonely dwellings, nursing whatever wounds the crazy world has i
♥ Sandi ❣
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to ♥ Sandi ❣ by: debut book prior to Lullaby Road
4 stars

I ended up reading this book because it was the debut book by James Anderson. I have his next book Lullaby Road, which I don't think is a series, however it's main character is the same one as his first book. So decided to do my homework and learn as much about Ben Jones, truck driver, as I could.

In this book Ben is about bankrupt. His rig is about to be repossessed, he really has nothing material to his name. He runs route 117 in the Utah desert. Basically he is an errand boy for the od
Victoria (RedsCat)
Maybe due in part to my recent move to the desert, I found i really connected to this novel. Not the experiences, but the landscape. This is another novel in which the landscape is as much a character as the people are. A beautiful but unforgiving character.

The people in the story are formed by their relationships with the desert. The characters are well-developed and never overdone or larger than life. I can picture them clearly. The writing paints a vivid picture overall. The story is solid a
JoAnne Pulcino
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction, noir

James Anderson

A debut novel so original and creative you wonder where the author has been all this time.

A broken down truck driver, the cantankerous owner of the diner and a woman playing a cello without strings in a deserted and unfinished home development are a few of the brilliantly portrayed characters. The deserted highway through the Utah desert becomes almost a character amid all the real life ones.

As the truck drivers interest in the woman with the cello grows
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Ross Macdonald; Harold Adams "Carl Wilcox" series
Recommended to Still by: I believe it was a review I read by Goodreads friend James Thane
A superb novel where solving the mystery isn't the objective.
More of an amiable character study along the lines of Harold Adams' "Carl Wilcox" crime series.
"Carl Wilcox" in Adams' series (set in the dustbowl era) is an itinerant sign painter roaming across depression era South Dakota.

This novel's "Ben Jones" is a barely-makin' it independent truck driver trying to break-even before the loan officers repossess his one-truck operation, Ben's Desert Moon Delivery Service. He drives up and down 117
The Never-Open Desert Diner is a standalone mystery novel written by debut author James Anderson. It is a story that follows a trucker: Ben who makes deliveries to people who choose to live in the barren Utah desert. Off the grid? Um…yes. Ben is pretty much these people’s only contact with the world outside of the desert. They ask for stuff, Ben brings them stuff. It’s a routine that works for everyone involved. But when a beautiful cello player: Claire enters the scenario, everything goes haywi ...more
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who love gritty books.
Recommended to Em*bedded-in-books* by: Rebecca and Jaya
Was different from my normal literary fare . A dark, macho storyline dealing with a lone cargo delivery man working as a one man private business, about to sink as the lonely desert region of Utah is inhabited sparsely by misfits and loners who are not much in need of delivered goods and the bigger companies are.eating up the young'uns.
Ben Jones encounters a mysterious but lovely woman serendipitously while traversing the lonely rutted tracks with his heavy cargo truck. His first encounter is a
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : The Never-Open Desert Diner - Nevisande : James Anderson - ISBN : 1101906529 - ISBN13 : 9781101906521 - Dar 304 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2015
Amante Libri
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Questo dovrebbe essere un noir e lo è. Ed è un noir, pur delicato e leggero, sorprendente sotto certi punti di vista (ad esempio il personaggio dell'eroe non è certo il tipico eroe dei gialli della letteratura nordamericana), ironico e drammatico insieme. Ma ciò che mi ha più coinvolta è stata una storia d'amore originale, vera, che sfiora il racconto marginalmente ma che ne è fulcro e motore; ciò che invece più mi ha deliziata è l'ambientazione, amando io il deserto, così evocativa: un deserto ...more
Pop Bop
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Twisty, Solid Plot; Weary, Jaded Noir Hero; Evocative, Honest Writing

If you like your noir sun-baked and dry, this may be the book for you. All of the important action takes place as we drive up and down fictitious Route 117, a deadend highway off of the very real Utah 191 in the undeniably real scrubby high desert south of Price, Utah. Midway along this stretch of useless highway, "...surrounded by miles of flat, rugged nothing, you come upon The Well-Known Desert Diner...", filming site for do
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anderson's first novel is fresh off the presses and flying out of inventory like a startled bat into the pale night sky. Atmospheric, introspective and genuinely literate, it's a mystery set in the badlands of the Utah desert where the tattered remnants of America's frontier, if sought, can still be found. Here are the fringe-dwellers; the vagabonds, the refugees, the fugitives, the scavengers; the faithful and the faithless come to rest in the gritted sand along U.S. Highway 117. Everyone has a ...more
Book Riot Community
Ben Jones is a delivery driver in a remote part of Utah, struggling to keep his business going, when he happens upon a mysterious woman in the middle of nowhere. From that moment forward, nothing is the same, and Ben is swept up in a tale of mystery and crimes, both old and new. What I liked best about this book was how unusual everything was. The mysteries, the region, and the characters were all unlike anything I had read before. This is a funny, wacky - and sometimes alarming - mystery.

Tune i
I am afraid to summarize or say too much about this book because I am afraid to give something away and ruin the book for you if you decide to read it so just read the publisher's blurb about it and that is not even the first 25% of the book. This book was a true mystery book for me and one of the few that I could not predict the ending or what was coming next through most of the book. I grew very attached to the characters (especially the main characters Ben and Walt) and their story lines. I l ...more
Don Gorman
About halfway through this book, I knew that I was enjoying it, but wondered if it was really going anywhere. I am glad to say that the second half did get going somewhere. This book is really well crafted, it flows nicely. The protagonist, Ben Jones is an absolute keeper. He carries the story well. There are a couple of terrific side characters too, from a single 19 year old pregnant mother to a 79 year old former Marine. The plot is not as strong as the characters or the writing style, but the ...more
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
4-1/2 stars. This is a great story about a truck driver on a particular route in the desert country of Utah, and all the strange people to whom he delivers. Intrigue, murder, and mayhem ensue!
* * * * *
"Like most people who said they wanted change, all I wanted was enough change to keep everything the same, only better."
"The Lacey brothers were small and scrappy, raw-boned men who wore their years in the desert like leather armor."
"I remembered a definition of chivalry I'd heard once: a man prote
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries
The only reason I started on this one was because Jaya recommended it and the only reason I finished it was because Em did a BR with me. This was a starkly grim book. It had things way far from the fluff I usually read. One thing that strikes you as soon as you start reading and stays with you long after you have finished it is the loneliness. The loneliness of Ben the protagonist and the loneliness of the windy sandy desert. It is so well written that you can imagine that sort of loneliness and ...more
Jul 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An isolated 100-mile stretch of desert highway in Utah - Hwy 117 - is home to a small but special breed of characters. Walt Butterfield, owner of The Well-Known Desert Diner, keeps his establishment pristine with one table constantly reserved and set for his dead wife Bernice. No paying guests have set foot in the now never-open diner since the day the unspeakable tragedy befell Bernice. Walt now lives with his immaculate collection of motorcycles and his own secret in the restroom of his storag ...more
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James Anderson was born in Seattle, Washington and raised in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He received his undergraduate degree in American Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and his Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston Massachusetts.

Undergraduate thesis: Word-man/Poet: The Poetry and Poetics of Lew Welch
Masters thesis: The Never-Entered Kingdom: Bey

Other books in the series

Ben Jones (2 books)
  • Lullaby Road
“This was the desert, everything all at once, whether it was needed or not. What survived had learned to save, live carefully, and keep a low profile, even appear to be dead for long periods. Perseverance and patience.” 6 likes
“Out in the desert what doesn't kill you just pisses you off and will probably kill you the next time.” 5 likes
More quotes…