4 out of 4 stars
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William H. Coles’s McDowell is ripe with just about every emotion known to man. I laughed, I cried, I was filled with anger; I saw love and hate (sometimes at the same time), and much more as I read the story of Hiram McDowell.
McDowell is a story that, at its core, is about guilt and redemption. Hiram McDowell is a surgeon who, at various points in his life ran a medical foundation in Nepal, led the International College of Surgeons, and was nominated to be the United States Secretary of Health. Hiram is married to Carole; after being widowed, they create a blended family with their children. Their relationships are rife with conflict almost from the beginning. Hiram spends quite a bit of time in Nepal, climbing peaks and working with the foundation. The more time he spends away from home, the better it is for all of them. Hiram’s adult children are involved in his life in interesting ways. Sophie is a photographer whose work involves Hiram’s life issues more as time goes on. Ann and her family become pivotal in Hiram’s future as tragedy, as well as his decisions, affect them all in permanent, life-changing ways. When youngest, Billie, reaches adulthood, he is also involved in dad’s life through work and a complex family issue.
The first part of the story focuses on Hiram’s quest for money and power. He makes many enemies, alienates friends and co-workers, and shows care for his children in unorthodox ways. The second part of the story focuses on the dreadful consequences of his past choices. Hiram finds himself on a completely new path, often alone, but also having different kinds of people in his life. He wants the world to know the truth about him, while he is changing in surprising ways.
Is it possible to find redemption when one is guilty of terrible things? Can one find love again? For any of these things to happen, a person has to really recognize and accept that what one did was terrible. For the protagonist in this story, that was a difficult concept, despite the external consequences that forever changed his life. Meeting new people who do not know your past can sometimes help one to see something different from what they have had before. For Hiram, these new encounters and relationships do make him think about what is important to him. Internalizing and processing what has happened and what changes are coming is still very difficult. At points, I wondered if narcissism was an issue for Hiram, but some actions make me question that thought. It is possible for some people that they will always have lives based on the past, no matter what their current conditions are, which readers may find interesting with some of the other characters in this story as well.
This fictional tale will have you question what a human is capable of doing when life does not turn out as one expected it to do. The impact of people’s choices on their relationships really draws the reader into the story. Seeing how Hiram’s children react, all in very different ways, to each other and to the world, makes you wonder how real life people deal with tragedy. The victims are not only the obvious ones. Coles has the ability to make you feel through his words, providing connection to the characters, almost making it possible to feel for them even when they commit immoral acts.
McDowell is professionally edited, with no noted grammar mistakes. The one concrete weakness was that it was not always possible to figure out how much time had passed between scenarios. This did lead to occasional confusion.
This story will appeal to a variety of readers but most especially those who love crime and mystery stories, or the study of human nature through fiction. If you enjoy not being able to guess how a story is going to end until you are at the end, you will love McDowell. Although not completely devoid of strong language, it is minimal. There a few mild sexual scenes help make the story seem more realistic. For all of these reasons, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It would make a great in-person book club “read”.
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