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David Gibb
James Anderson is the author of "The Never-Open Desert Diner."

"THE NEVER-OPEN DESERT DINER," by James Anderson, Caravel Books, $25, 288 pages (f)

Ben's Desert Moon Delivery Service is at the end of the road — state Route 117 in southern Utah, that is.

Ben Jones is nearly broke. He deals daily with oddball characters who need his services but seldom pay and who interact in sporadic, sometimes dangerous ways.

He's a good guy fighting his way through the desert to deliver ice cream, metal pipes to a University of Utah dig and motorcycle parts to a popular diner that's infamous for never being open. But the business he loves is tanking.

The life of this tough half-Native American, who was abandoned as a baby in a red blanket, consists of going up and down the road in a predictable but challenging pattern.

Then he catches sight of a beautiful woman through the window of what he thought was an abandoned house. She plays the cello, likes Butter Brickle ice cream and has reasons for seeking isolation.

When Ben is offered the chance to star in a truck driver reality TV show, he initially turns down the chance.

The story takes off from there and becomes a mystery/romance/journey to find oneself. Everything that seems simple or mystical has a logical explanation — and sometimes an awful one.

James Anderson writes well and has meticulously researched his material. There's substance in the story and characters, although a few are over-the-top, such as the crazy Lacey brothers and the fanatic who carries a heavy cross back and forth over the desert. The pregnant teenager and the guy obsessed with getting back his priceless cello ring more true.

Ben doesn't take himself too seriously and helps those he encounters without hurting or taking advantage of anyone. He tries to make a difference and is a decent friend.

Utahns will recognize references to places in the southern desert and passages about Mormons that put the book in a cultural context.

There is a brutal rape scene that's generally described, some sexual passages and some rough language, including swearing scattered throughout.

If you go ...

What: Book signing with James Anderson

When: Wednesday, April 15, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, jamesandersonauthor.com

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who buy a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com. Email: [email protected]