Book Discovery: McDowell by William H. Coles

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We read novels for the stories and the characters that draw us into their worlds. More often than not, the most memorable of these characters are the ones who leave a positive impact in our lives. They are the brave and kind. They are the types of people who we aspire to be. If they were real, we would not mind having coffee with them. When we close the last page of a novel, we think to ourselves that we should try to be like the characters in the book. But once in a while, we meet the main character that we can’t help but honestly dislike.

McDowell is one such character. Even if the coffee were free, it is safe to say that you will not want to spend any time with him. From page one of the novel, the author, William H. Coles, paints us a picture of what Dr. Hiram McDowell is like—powerful and wealthy, selfish and arrogant. He is a lauded surgeon and is undoubtedly very good at his job. But his skills are not enough to redeem him in his colleagues and family’s eyes.

An unfortunate string of events find Dr. McDowell in prison with a murder conviction. Seeing that he is not a very likable character, it is easy to feel elated about this horrible twist in Dr. McDowell’s life. We’re only human, we feel schadenfreude, especially if the person suffering from misery deserved it.

This novel, however, offers us a narrative of redemption. Some people find the errors of their ways in prison, where McDowell eventually finds himself with a second-degree murder conviction and a 25-year sentence. But for him, the road to redemption came after he escaped the prison walls. With authorities on his heels and a persistent journalist set on getting his story, we follow the second half of McDowell’s journey to becoming a better person. In his attempts to escape the police, we meet the people who become instrumental in his redemption. From the stories that McDowell himself writes about his life, we begin to see the change in him, we begin to feel that he can be warm and compassionate --- someone we can respect and aspire to be.

How exactly did Dr. Hiram McDowell redeem himself? Does he evade capture forever and goes on to live a good life outside of prison? Does he, at the end of the book, become a character inspiring enough for us to remember fondly? These questions and more are explored in this gripping new story by award-winning writer William H. Coles.

Reviews and What Readers Say

" Novels with strong and powerful stories are among the best ones. McDowell is strange novel. There is not much novels (at least, I am not familiar with them) in which the author writes about a protagonist who we need to dislike. I am not going to say, “Hate’’ because hatred is a bit too strong word. Nevertheless, as I said- I have not read many novels like this one and as such I wanted to go through it, to the end, just to see what is it all about with this “McDowell guy.’’ Well, first of all Mr. McDowell is not some random “guy’’ you can pick on the street. He is renowned surgeon who seems to go rather well in his profession. As the novel goes on, we can read about McDowell’s “climbing on the latter’’ of success. However, as he approaches closer and closer towards success, we are given more and more insights into his, morally rather doubtful choices that he makes. Just when our protagonist thinks that has “reached the top,’’ he realizes that he actually fell into the chasm, the chasm he can get away from by redeeming himself. This is exactly what he does. From here now, the novel and the protagonist resemble Ebenezer Scrooge and his Christmas tale (with the exception that there were no three Christmas ghosts that came to teach him about his mistakes). McDowell is an interesting and peculiar novel. The most important reason for this is because, it was written in a rather different way than most of us are used to. I like it. I like the message of this novel, because the message can change us and change the world. I believe that the message from this novel has the ability to affect us all in a positive way. "

― Ivan Hecimovic, Amazon Client, Verified Purchase

An amazing spiritual quest beautifully written. McDowell” is a book about the road to redemption. The main character is a surgeon who – from the very first pages – we are encouraged to dislike. All of his life experiences, his behavior, his speech, and the way he presents…everything makes us shiver and hate him. Even root against him. It is not easy to create such disdain and the author is capable of pulling it off quite brilliantly. Then tragedy strikes and the character’s life is completely destroyed. I’m not kidding if I say most of the readers will share a sigh of relief at this point. Karma exists! Hooray! And then, slowly but steady, the author immerses the readers in a story of forgiveness, of finding yourself on a road to redemption and embracing a meaningful life. The book is beautifully written, everything in a perfect tone, well-paced, allowing the readers to embark on this spiritual quest. Definitely, the author is very experienced in setting a great story."

― Marcia, Amazon Client, Verified Purchase

" This is a novel that will grow on the reader slowly. At first the protagonist is not at all empathetic, nor are the other characters that compelling. For me the first half of the novel was therefore not a page turner. I checked with the reviews at that point and realized that there must be a pretty big change in the story, so I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. The novel evolves into a story of redemption and self examination - that part begins halfway through and makes the second half of the novel read much differently than the first. At the end, I very engaged and interested to discover how the story resolves."

Purple, Amazon Client, Verified Purchase

A novel follows a surgeon who possesses all the material comforts anyone could want, but harbors a deep lacking in his soul.

When readers first meet Hiram McDowell, he is leaving a hiking partner for dead and trying to make it back down a mountain in Nepal in 1981. It's hard to judge if McDowell is simply callous and cruel or whether this is an issue of survival. Everything readers learn about him in the next few chapters, though, shows he is a pig who treats women like objects and deceives his third wife, Carole Mastriano. He's also power-hungry, cheating a colleague, Michael O'Leary, out of a post on his way to becoming president of the International College of Surgeons. The one soft spot he has is for his three kids: Billie, who gets in trouble with one of Carole's daughters; Ann, who copes with a turbulent marriage and mean children; and Sophie, who seeks to find her professional footing as a photographer. The tales start to converge when Paige Sterling, a journalist in her 50s fighting sexism at her network to keep her job, is assigned to cover McDowell's story. Tragedy befalls the family when Ann's son Jeremy goes on a killing spree, which leads to McDowell's ultimate downfall when he is convicted of murdering the culprit in his hospital bed. McDowell escapes from prison and begins an unlikely association with a bookstore owner named Maud and her family. That gives him a chance at spiritual redemption while Sterling and the police try to hunt him down. Coles (Sister Carrie, 2016, etc.) has a knack for creating distinct characters. From McDowell to the members of Sterling's crew in Nepal, they all have their own personalities. No player is wasted as a mere plot device. The author also expertly weaves together varied threads, though there are certain points where the story jumps forward past important action. But Billie revealing his indiscretions and his desire to be an artist; Sophie struggling to find herself after her partner is murdered; Ann navigating her marriage; and Sterling using unexpected opportunities all dovetail well with McDowell's arc.

This worthy tale delivers an epic feel and strong characters.

― Kirkus Reviews

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William H. Coles is a literary fiction writer, winner of multiple awards including finalists in His publications include five novels, collections of short fiction and three books on the writing of fiction stories. The William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition, The Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and others. To learn the art of writing fiction, he studied in more than 100 courses and workshops with more than seventy-five authors, editors, and teachers and created, a website with resources for fiction writers, illustrators, and avid fiction readers. He was an ophthalmic surgeon specializing in ocular injury repair and reconstruction, a professor and chairman at SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine, a Regent for The American College of Surgeons, president of the Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology. He is an active jazz piano player, former President of the Gibbes Art Museum in Charleston, SC, and has lectured internationally on mechanistic biologic ophthalmic research, ophthalmic surgery, jazz, and valuing antique Georgian and federal furniture and 18th and 19th-century paintings at Emory University. He won a Mayor's award for contributions to historic preservation in Charleston, SC. and the Conrad Berens Award for best film on a medical subject. He lives and writes in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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