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Friday, February 24, 2017

The Never-Open Desert Diner

Now that I live in the desert, I have a fondness for books that take place in the desert, especially desert noir, a particular kind of noir that upends the usual tropes of noir--no rainy city streets, or men in fedoras, or gats, but instead characters who are in the desert on purpose, hiding from civilization, or perhaps trying to hide from themselves.

The Never-Open Desert Diner, by James Anderson, takes place in the desert of Utah. Ben Jones drives a delivery truck down Route 117 (which does exist, I checked, but maybe not in the place that Anderson sets it in). Ben is a pretty standard noir character, a man with integrity who is tested, and is caught up in something over his head. He meets a mysterious woman whom he falls in love with, but he can't have her.

I don't want to go to deeply into the plot, because I enjoyed not knowing where the story was going (it takes a long while before we really understand what's going on), but the title refers to a diner that is on Ben's route that is, well, never open. It's owned by an old cuss named Walt Butterfield, who is not really Ben's friend, but they have a certain respect for reach other. "From 1955 to 1987 the diner appeared in dozens of B movies. There were the desert horror-thriller movies, the desert biker mayhem movies, and the movies where someone, usually an attractive young woman, drove across the desert alone and some bad shit happened."

Walt experienced a tragedy, and shut up the diner and just tinkers on his motorcycle collection. Ben, who is not breaking even and is about to lose his truck, starts to sense weird things going on, like a reality-TV producer wanting to feature him in a show about truck drivers.

Anderson's best work is the kind of lines that make noir books snap, such as: "I didn’t want to be shot, but if I had to be shot by someone, she would have been my first choice," which Raymond Chandler would have proud of, or "Conversation in the high desert was parceled out like water and often with less enthusiasm, each drop cherished for the life it represented."

I recommend this book for those who like noir mysteries and those who like tales of the desert. I happen to in the center of that Venn diagram.


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