Lullaby Road reunites us with Ben Jones, the lonesome truck driver we met in James Anderson’s The Never-Open Desert DinerHe’s still driving that lonely hundred mile stretch of Utah highway for nowhere to nothing, making deliveries to people who don’t like answering questions or asking them either. Winter has landed with its snow, fog, ice and generally scary road conditions, but Ben is heading out on that highway to deliver what people need.

Except someone left him something or, more accurately, someone. A child has been left out in the weather at the diesel pump with a note to him asking him to watch the child because the father, Pedro, has some big trouble. With no recourse, Ben puts her and her vigilant dog in the truck and heads down the road.

Heading down the road, he checks in with characters familiar to readers of The Never-Open Desert DinerBy the end of the first day, he’s had a near-collision that damaged his truck and a friend of his has been struck and left for dead in the cold. More complications develop as he begins to suspect that the accident was no accident and the man who left the child with him is missing and so is the owner of the truck stop.

I loved Lullaby Road even though it broke my heart more than once. Like Anderson’s first book, it transcends the mystery/suspense genres. it’s literary fiction with a mystery (more than one if you want to be technical.) It’s a novel with a generous heart. Ben Jones thinks he’s a bit of hardbitten tough guy and certainly, he’s physically tough and tough on himself, but he’s empathetic and compassionate, someone who understands “there but for the grace of” even with the sorriest, saddest characters.

Reading Lullaby Road will transport you to the cold, lonely highway.  I turned my heat on for the first time in over a month and I am pretty sure it was not colder outside, the cold radiated from the book. The authenticity of place is vital to the story as Anderson’s stories develop out of their setting. This story and these people would not come together anywhere else.

For much of the book, there is a sinister presence out of sight–fragments that are never manifest until the end. It seems to me that Anderson struggles with realizing his villains, so we don’t see very much of them and they remain one dimensional. There are a lot of grumps, jerks, cranks, and oddballs, but the absolute villains do not get much space to be completely realized. This was true in his first book, too. I am not sure if this is a failing. It perhaps violates the Detection Club rules, but it makes for a human story that is engrossing, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

I received a copy of Lullaby Road from the publisher through Blogging for Books.