Desert Isle Keeper
Dr. Strange Beard
Penny Reid is one of those authors with such a distinct style that you know immediately you are reading one of her books. No one has the same cadence or character voices that Ms. Reid does and it makes it such a delight to fall back into her stories. Dr. Strange Beard is a friends-to-lovers tale that features Roscoe Winston and Simone Payton, childhood best friends who haven’t been in contact since high school but are forced back into proximity when Simone starts making regular trips to their hometown.
Roscoe, we learn quickly, makes himself scarce during those weekends because he has been in love with Simone since forever and cannot handle being around her since he knows his feelings are not reciprocated. He confessed his love to her back in high school, and her response was less than awesome. Roscoe desperately wishes he could forget that conversation, but he can’t. Not because of the way that traumatic memories haunt the best of us, but because that he actually cannot. Roscoe has an eidetic memory and has crafted his life around not creating more memories since he can’t handle the ones he already has. His veterinary practice in Nashville is going well, he routinely comes home to Green Valley to see his siblings and their partners, and if he can just avoid Simone completely he’ll be fine.
Simone has absolutely no idea why Roscoe ghosted her all those years ago. Between then and when our story begins, she landed a job in the research lab of the FBI. She trusts numbers, and research, and science, and has absolutely no time for emotions. In my favorite piece of repeated dialogue, she informs us that decisions are best made by either Google Maps or a sherpa, and never by emotions. She’s back in Green Valley because the FBI has actually recruited her out of the lab and into an undercover operation. Turns out they’ve been infiltrating the motorcycle club that Roscoe’s dad is a part of for a while, and are closing in. They need a point of contact between the bureau and their agent on the inside and since Simone’s presence working at her mother’s bakery won’t really raise suspicions, she’s drafted for the job.
Up to the point our story begins, Roscoe has been doing an exceptional job of avoiding Simone’s visits, which occur according to a pattern, so he just arranged to be out of town. In the opening scene however, she’s switched up her schedule and our boy is in a bit of a panic. How is he supposed to deal with the only woman he has ever loved or will ever love as though it’s no big deal she doesn’t love him back? Well, then his dad shows up and makes the choice easy for Roscoe – protect Simone regardless of personal pain.
These two are embedded in each other lives, and watching them sort through the layers was a treat. As the book alternates PoVs, we get to know each of them separately while also getting to know them together. We hear from Roscoe as to why he ghosted Simone long before he could bear to tell her, which makes his eventual confession that much richer – we know the pair have done the work to get to a place where he can trust her again. We hear from Simone about her life as a black woman both in the FBI and in America, and whenever there is an issue where her race was A Thing, she tells us how she views it and Ms. Reid’s decision to give Simone total agency of those narratives is a gift. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the author lists a number of folks who – according to her – read early drafts and helped make Simone a stronger and more grounded character. As far as I’m concerned, it shows.
I could honestly write for pages and pages about how I fell deep into it with these two. I have, in fairness, done so with every other book in the series, but this one hit me in a specific place. I read it in one sitting and sighed absolutely contentedly at the end. While this is a stand-alone novel anyone can enjoy, I cannot recommend this entire series highly enough. Get to know the Winston clan, everyone, and I know you will not regret it.