Review by a9436 -- McDowell by William H. Coles

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Review by a9436 -- McDowell by William H. Coles

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[Following is a volunteer review of "McDowell" by William H. Coles.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever hated a fictional character so much that they almost made your skin crawl? That was my reaction to author William H. Coles’ brilliant portrayal of Hiram McDowell, the lead focus of the novel which shares his surname. Over the entire first half of the book, the dialogue, descriptions, and especially the internal thoughts of McDowell come together to paint a picture of an arrogant man, ambitious to the point of life-or-death ruthlessness, selfish, and sexist. Readers learn of his personal and professional conquests, of those who suffered in order for McDowell to reach his goals, and of an extreme absence of remorse.

Halfway through McDowell though, the protagonist finds himself in a serious situation, losing much that is dear to him, and resulting in a very different lifestyle for the now-former surgeon. Whilst running from the consequences of his fall from grace, McDowell spends the time covered by Part Two of the book interacting with those to whom he would never before have given the time of day, and writing his memoir in the hope of salvaging his perceived lost reputation as a respectable member of society.

In many ways, I found myself surprised by just how much Coles’ work captivated me; I simply could not put McDowell down despite there being a number of factors which irritated me. There was a significant continuity error regarding the dates of McDowell’s marriages, much of the dialogue was written in slang, which I personally found frustrating, and there were a few grammatical errors. The element that I disliked the most was not having a concept of time, for example, not realising from the text that a period of several months had gone by until a reference to an entire pregnancy having passed confirmed it. Especially in Part Two, I found it hard to relate to McDowell’s experiences and relationships without knowing how long he was taking to settle into his new, uncomfortable scenarios, and the frequency at which he was forced to leave everything behind once again.

However, it was still possible to enjoy the story, and indeed become hooked on the book, by looking past the chronology and letting McDowell’s personality drive the narrative. The blurb led me to believe that McDowell’s second half would tell a story of self-evaluation and redemption, but I never did warm to the character, partly because I could not empathise with him, and partly because of his explicit actions, but the desire to discover whether he would change kept me turning page after page. The supporting characters are also described briefly yet vividly, creating to a complex picture of a society with a rather blurry boundary between right and wrong. Add to this a number of unexpected twists and turns, and Coles creates a fast-paced read which I believe will appeal to an adult audience interested in suspense, crime, and character-driven novels.

I rate McDowell 3 out of 4 stars. The errors in continuity and editing prevent me from rating it higher, but the unique and intriguing plot and the well-written atmosphere of uncertainty mean that two stars would be just too few.

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