2 out of 4 stars
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McDowell, written by William H. Coles, is a transformation story featuring the dislikable Dr. Hiram McDowell. Set in two parts, we follow McDowell’s character arch through his charmed and selfish life as a celebrated doctor and avid mountain-climbing enthusiast to his fall from grace and his participation in a crime. McDowell must learn how to survive being sent to prison, escaping prison, and finally learning to live on nothing but his wits and the kindness of strangers while being a fugitive. There are several subplots sprinkled throughout the novel that focus on minor characters, such as McDowell’s children, that all converge in the end for the novel’s finale.
The highlight of the novel is the narrative’s concept and the characterization of McDowell himself. The story has the essence of a great epic tale as McDowell’s character undergoes a huge transformation throughout the novel. Although I could not come to like Hiram McDowell, I did appreciate the greed and corruption of his character that is so similar to many American professionals today. I also appreciate the way McDowell’s choices have specific consequences that directly impact his entire life and therefore push the story forward. He feels like a real person with a complicated story.
Despite the strong plot, this novel has many issues. An obvious issue is the lack of thorough editing. There are many structural and grammatical mistakes that disturb the flow of the narrative and it tends to take me out of the story. For example, there are a few instances, such as at the end of chapter eight, where Coles gives exposition in italics on the characters’ situations rather than inferring it in the narrative itself. This stops the flow of the story completely and ruins the tension.
It also seems as though some plot lines are explored and then dropped at random only to be picked up again later without a frame of reference for how much time has passed or details about what happens during the missed time. This was most obvious when we learn that Tasha is pregnant with Billie’s child. The next time we hear about these characters is several chapters later when the child has already been born and there is a restraining order on Billie. What happened during the year that was so bad Billie has a restraining order out on him? Details like these are completely skipped. It is hard for me to care about any of the characters or even follow the story when time passes without reference or details.
Overall, I rate this novel 2 out of 4 stars. The book has a strong plot and the character of Hiram McDowell is multi-faceted and complicated, but that is about all it has going for it. The other characters are thin at best, details and time references that flesh out the story are missing, and there are more than several grammatical issues. I would recommend this book to those who like a good family drama or transformational story. To those who are sticklers for structure and grammar: read with caution.
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