Review: McDowell

the book in question

William H. Coles’ McDowell follows the titular man himself, Hiram McDowell. He is very successful in his career, but less so in his personal life. Yet this doesn’t appear to bother him at all, as his callous and lack of understanding in his personal relationships causes people to question his success. Did he truly know what was going on, or were the crimes done under his name an oversight? Then comes the one crime he cannot slip and the rest of the novel follows him as he attempts to make his side of the story known.

This book is separated into two parts: everything before the final capital C Crime, and after McDowell escapes from prison. Did he deserve it? The first part would have you say yes and the second part… well, that is a bit more complicated. The two parts of the book really did feel separate. McDowell in the first half is an abject piece of garbage as a human being. He manipulates people, doesn’t care much about them, and appears to be in his career path for money. When things go wrong he does not step up, he throws money at it.

Hiram isn’t the only POV character, there are many others. This is both the weakness and the most interesting part of the novel. These other characters aren’t always better than Hiram. I am not certain if I was supposed to like them either. The only character I felt any connection with was Sophie and, eventually, Paige. Yet following their stories and how Hiram’s life and choices had them all interact with each other ended feeling hollow. There wasn’t much of a conclusion for any of them. In the first half of the book we had some scenes from Hiram’s youngest son’s, Billie’s, POV. He appears to have some interesting things going on. But his story then happens out of view and we only hear about it from the perspective of other characters.

Back to Hiram. In the end, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about McDowell. I am also unsure if this was the intent of the novel. The crime he is accused of halfway through the novel is a serious one, one that is given potential justification in the second half. Yet there was never a moment I thought he would do such a thing for a selfless reason. Not even for his family. While he has a moment or two with Sophie and Billie, none of that feels like enough that he would actively sacrifice for anyone. And as nothing in the first part of the novel gave me the impression he would do that and the second part of the novel doesn’t really have any internal thoughts or onscreen dialogue satisfactory in explaining those actions, I can’t really attribute this crime as anything other than selfish and angry.

Which in itself would be fine. I wouldn’t mind reading about a man who learnt after doing such a thing that while there were some good things coming out from that, that he was driven primarily for the wrong reasons. But that never happened. He was learning something for sure, I could tell that, but I never really got the impression that he had reached a point of understanding what caused his fall from “grace”. And the story ends without enough of a resolution on that point.

I would have accepted that too, if after Hiram’s last scenes we had more of a resolution with any of the other characters, but it didn’t feel like that. Not after everything brought up about all of them. Sophie’s feelings for another character, reaching peak drama near the end of the book, isn’t really shown. We are told about their feelings for each other and we have to accept it because we don’t see anything else. Sophie and Paige’s friendship looked like it might be the most interesting interaction in the entire book, but all reconciliation after any spats was also passed over for the next scene.

My other problem with the book was that I could never tell how much time had passed. Someone would mention a prior event in passing and mention it was years ago, surprising me because I might have guessed it was a few months. Perhaps that was me missing some subtle cues, but I’m not sure the timeline of a novel like this should be subtle.

In the end, I feel as though this was a fascinating plot which was failed, not by the style of writing, but by what was and was not focused on. I really want to recommend it though, because the plot was so good. But the ending doesn’t leave you with much, so unless you are up for a downer, give this book a pass.


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