4 out of 4 stars
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Hiram McDowell, the title character in William H. Coles’ novel McDowell, is not a nice person. He is a famous surgeon, admired by the public for his charitable work in establishing a hospital in Nepal. But his charity’s money doesn’t all go to fund the hospital. He has lied and cheated his way to the top of his profession. He callously uses people to get ahead. In the opening chapter, we see McDowell climbing the Himalayas with his friend, Erick Woolf. When Woolf is too tired to continue, McDowell takes Woolf’s oxygen tank, and leaves him on the mountain to die. McDowell shows no remorse for this act, or for any of the other questionable things that he does.
In his personal life, he is equally reprehensible. He is on his third marriage and is a constant cheater. When his wife confronts him about his infidelities, and threatens divorce, he tells her that he doesn’t care. He uses women, interested only in his own pleasure. The only people he seems to really care about are his three children: Ann, Sophie, and Billie. But even then, he is not a good father. He is seldom present in his children’s lives. He gives them his money, instead of showing love. Whenever they get in trouble, even as adults, he buys their way out of the difficulty.
Halfway through the book, McDowell’s crimes are finally uncovered, and he is forced to live without his fame or money. The people he meets along the way, like the New Orleans street musician Gatemouth Willie Brown, and the artist Winona Payman, slowly change McDowell’s view of life. He begins to care about others and has empathy for them. He learns that he can find happiness without his money. He begins to be a better person. But will McDowell really change?
I liked the outstanding character development in this book. Hiram McDowell is a flawed man. Most books have one-dimensional characters, either all good or all bad. McDowell is very multi-dimensional. He is very bad, self-centered, and selfish. But there is also a good side to him. He does love his children, even if he is not good at showing it. His hospital in Nepal does do good work. But he sees nothing wrong in using the charity’s money for his personal use. He doesn’t understand why people dislike him. This book is also filled with other interesting and well-defined characters, including his children, Paige the news reporter, and Max Rojas the detective.
There were only a few things that I disliked about this book. I hated how McDowell talked about and treated women. He is constantly talking about their bodies, calling them fat or ugly. He is so insensitive. But I guess that this trait just adds to his character. The author does a good job of making McDowell unlikeable. The second thing that I disliked about this book is that McDowell never showed remorse for his misdeeds. He never says that is sorry or that he regrets his previous actions. He blames others for his problems and never takes responsibility. Because of this, I did not feel sorry for him. Even when he was starting to turn his life around, he was still guilty.
This book was very well edited, and I found only one misspelling. The characters are colorful and extremely interesting people. I would recommend McDowell, by William H. Coles, to anyone who enjoys character driven novels. It is a moral story of right and wrong. It made me realize that you should think about other people and not always just yourself. There are consequences for your actions. McDowell also delves into some very serious subjects such as adultery, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and homelessness. Because this book is so well-written and so thought-provoking, I believe that it has earned 4 out of 4 stars. I highly recommend it.
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