REVIEW: The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich

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Beloved writer Sean Dietrich—also known as Sean of the South—will warm your heart with this rich and nostalgic tale of a small-town sheriff, a mysterious little girl, and a good-hearted community pulling together to help her.

Folks in Moab live for ice cream socials, baseball, and the local paper’s weekly gossip column. Sheriff Winston Browne has watched over Moab with a generous eye for a decade, and by now he’s used to handling the daily dramas that keep life interesting for Moab’s quirky residents.

But just after Winston receives some terrible, life-altering news, a seemingly mute runaway with no clear origin arrives in Moab. The residents do what they believe is right and take her in—until two suspicious strangers arrive and begin looking for her. Suddenly Winston has a child in desperate need of protection—as well as a secret of his own to keep.

With the help of Moab’s goodhearted townsfolk, the humble and well-meaning Winston Browne still has some heroic things to do. He finds romance, family, and love in unexpected places. He stumbles upon adventure, searches his soul, and grapples with the past. In doing so, he just might discover what a life well-lived truly looks like.

Sometimes ordinary people do the most extraordinary things of all.

CW/TW – (not a spoiler) The main character has malignant cancer. A drowned corpse is described. 

Dear Mr. Dietrich, 

Well, two for two. I’m a latecomer to your books but I am a convert to their goodness. Unlike Nub Taylor in “Kinfolk,” Sheriff Winston Browne is a good man. A very good man. And unlike many good men, he actually gets the appreciation he deserves from many, if not most, of the people who love and admire him. Few can say that. 

To local residents it was covered dish socials, municipal meetings, and a bunch of people minding your business. To Eleanor Hughes, it was a river town full of millworkers, drunks, old biddies, Sunday school students whose sole purpose in life was to make her life miserable, and women who got old many years before they became elderly.

The book is set, deeply set, in the 1950s of a small town in the Florida panhandle. It’s a nice town, with mostly nice people making their homes and their lives there. At least I don’t recall meeting up with any bad ‘uns from Moab. As the story opens, Winston and two of his friends are working on a baseball field. They’d all played when younger but now age is catching up to them. For Winston, the cancer he probably owes to smoking his way across Europe in the Infantry during WWII is making its presence known, too. This is something that Winston has decided to keep to himself. I can understand that as he is in his early fifties and is the type of man who just shoulders on and doesn’t complain.

Winston was still thinking about the peculiar look on Eleanor’s face when he spun her. A look that was worth its weight in hot chicken casserole. A little bit of surprise. A little bit of caution. A little bit of unexpected excitement making an appearance. In other words, youth. It was the feeling of youth. Winston had almost forgotten what that felt like.

Eleanor Hughes is also a lifelong Methodist like Winston, and it is during the wedding of her niece (Eleanor did all the flowers for it) while she sits beside her lifelong swain who never set a date with her, that she realizes she’s had enough of waiting for him. She settled into being an old woman way before her time and she’s through. Dumbfounded Jimmy has no idea what he’s done – or not done per Eleanor. 

Eleanor caught a glimpse of herself in the dining room mirror. She was shocked at how dowdy she looked. Never before had she realized what an old woman she was. She touched her hair. Jimmy had aged her. He’d given her an excuse to stay frozen in 1902 like Ma Kettle. No more. Eleanor Hughes was finished looking like a dishwashing, pea-shelling old biddy.

When she finished draping the dough over each tin, she trimmed the excess with scissors, then gathered the remnants into a ball, flattened it with a rolling pin, and gave the lump a stern warning not to mess with her. Then she went to town on it, laughing like a villain in an old movie.



Young Jessie is amazed at the new world around her but not so amazed that she won’t lick the three snots in the car along with her as Sister Johanna drives them south and away from the cult in which Jessie has lived all her life. The Brethren don’t like uppityness, sin, or going against church leaders but it only slowly dawns on Jessie that she’s running for her life. 

Buz Guilford and his friend PJ are searching for his granddad, the town drunk. Buzz both loves and hates his granddad who drinks up every penny he can find, beg, or steal. The old man also siphons gas to sell and has taught Buzz the skills although Buz and his mother, a survivor of polio, prefer to work – his mother doing double shifts at the mill and Buzz dropping out of school to take on supporting them all. 

He fell facedown on his bed and cried into his mattress. Because Buz did not want to be the man of the house. He wanted to be fourteen. He wanted to be normal.

And then there are three (frankly they sound crazy) religious fanatics who are searching for young Jessie and another whom they are determined will not escape the due justice for their sins. Oh, and Moabites are true Brooklyn Dodgers fans (yes, way down in Florida) faithfully following the 1955 season.

As with “Kinfolk” this book took me back a bit. Not all the way back to 1955 mind you but to a small town in which my mother grew up and which I visited each summer to see my grandparents. Life was slower and centered around farming and the Methodist Church (though the Baptists and Presbyterians were also there). The local newspaper didn’t go quite as much into the details of everyone’s lives as the Social Graces column does here but yes, everyone knew everyone and what they were up to. I could easily picture this town with its local merchants, people who were (as was Eleanor) fourth generation Moabites, one main business street, and making due with only one police squad car. 

But it’s the people I fell in love with. They are human. They are flawed. They are hard working (even the old men who sit all day in the mercantile) and just a little bit jealous of Pensacola with its two movie theaters and Chinese restaurant. Children play outside and the sidewalks are neatly rolled up at dusk. When Jessie arrives, hunted and looking to keep running, Eleanor, Jimmy (who forgives Jessie for beaning him with a can of carrots), Winston, and Buz step up. 

Jessie had almost forgotten about vices. In her time in Moab she had grown to love vices like jawbreakers, wax soda bottles filled with what tasted like cough syrup, sourballs so incredibly sour your face would actually be sucked right into your mouth, and of course Mary Janes. She had also grown to love television, colorful clothes, world geography, long division, comic books, music, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hallowed be their names.

The everyday events here including the morning scrabble games and the Halloween trick-or-treating are a delight. Watching Winston take over a preacher-less funeral and do right by the grieving is just what this man does. He helps maintain Buzz’s pride, sets him straight, and makes sure his mama isn’t embarrassed. He also teaches Buz to dance so he can make a stab at doing more than mooning over Becky at the social.  


Winston ignored this remark. “Give the boy a chance. I’m asking you as a friend. I wanna do right by him. He needs something permanent. When I’m gone, the new sheriff won’t owe Buz anything.”

The words lodged in Jimmy’s ears and stayed there for a few seconds. Jimmy looked back at the boy, who was leaning on the counter like a telephone pole with legs. “Dadgum you, Winston Browne.”

The various threads of the plot are carefully gathered together in a way that shows how neatly they’d been spun out over the course of the book. If the final chapters are a bit drawn out, they also serve to show how beloved Sheriff Browne is and give Eleanor an opportunity to hand out some sage wisdom. The ending, yeah it made me cry and it hurt but I knew it was coming and I wouldn’t have missed the ride. B+ 


“What can we do, Win?” said Eleanor.         

         Winston’s eyes immediately pinkened. His voice broke, and it stabbed Eleanor’s heart. Jimmy bit his lip and closed his eyes.

         Tommy turned his back to the group.  

         “Nothing,” Winston said. “Just don’t forget me when I’m gone.”

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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