McDowell, an arrogant, selfish, uncaring surgeon--except with his three children whom he ineptly tries to council as they come of age--loses his career, wealth, respect, and fame when his grandson goes on a killing spree and then fails in a suicide attempt living in a vegetative, braindead state. When the boy dies under suspicious circumstances, McDowell is convicted and jailed for second degree murder. He escapes to become a fugitive pursued by authorities, an investigative TV reporter eager to interview him before capture, and his daughter who is trying for a retrial.
McDowell’s family members struggle to find meaning in their lives but each is thwarted at every turn by their father’s reputation. McDowell keeps on the move to prevent his capture and establish a new life. He is forced to gingerly reenter society at the lowest levels and with each new acquaintance, he must learn a new sense of humanity to survive. A finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition.

Award finalist in 2021 Reader's Favorite Awards and in both the 2014 and 2015 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition

William H Coles

William H. Coles is the award-winning author of short stories, essays on writing, interviews, and novels in contests such as The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the William Faulkner Creative Writing Com­pe­tition, among others. He is the creator of storyin­literary­fiction.com, a site dedicated to educational material, a workshop, and examples for writers seeking to create lasting character-based fiction with strong dramatic plots that stimulate thought about the human condition. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Coles has a knack for creating
distinct characters."
"…expertly weaves together various threads…"
"No player is wasted as a mere plot device."
"This worthy tale delivers an epic feel
and strong characters."

— Kirkus Reviews

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Nepal, 1981

The sky cleared briefly before daybreak. The sharp bitter winds eased somewhat, but the negative forty-degree temperatures penetrated to the bone. Hiram McDowell lifted the flap of a one-man tent to look in on Erick Woolf, who turned his head, his beard tinged in frost-white from his labored breathing; Woolf lifted his goggles, his pale blue eyes opaque with fatigue.

“You ready?” Hiram asked.

Woolf shook his head “no,” trying to smile but his face remained motionless.

Hiram took off his outer gloves, freed up an oxygen tank from Woolf’s backpack, and placed the mask on Woolf’s face. Woolf rallied after a few minutes of oxygen.

Within half an hour, with four other climbers, Hiram and Woolf started for the summit. Woolf’s fatigue slowed progress and after an hour they soon fell behind the others. The wind gusts increased. Woolf sank into a sitting position a few yards from a slope of snow and ice.

Hiram steadied himself on a steep vertical. For a few seconds, the visibility improved, but he saw no one.

“Go,” Woolf called to him, his voice husky dry. “I can’t do it.”

With only slight hesitation, Hiram waved his agreement. He had only two hours or less to summit before their oxygen supply ran low. And Woolf was too weak to go on; the rest would strengthen him. At the summit, Hiram took photos and, for a few minutes, absorbed the satisfaction of his achievement and the awe of the view from the highest point on earth.

Winds picked up and snow and haze decreased visibility as he began his descent. He pressed on. After an hour, he stumbled onto Woolf a few feet from where he had left him.

“Get up,” Hiram yelled over the howling wind.

“Help me. In the name of God,” Woolf pleaded.

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Review from The Book Commentary

McDowell by William H. Coles presents the tragic fall of an arrogant man from grace. Hiram McDowell is a brilliant, admired, and respected surgeon with many flaws — arrogance, narcissism, and boundless pride. He is a selfish man who watches his climbing partner die on Mt. Everest, belittles his wife, ignores his children, and tricks his colleague. The author paints the picture of a man who cares for no one but himself, and surprisingly, he seems to move from one success to another, and as his success grows, so does his pride. His success leads him to become one of the cabinet members of the president. But when his grandson, Jeremy, is on life support, McDowell makes a decision that will destroy him. Now with his world and success, even his reputation gone, he embarks on a path to redemption. This is a man who once lived at the top of the world, now being hunted. Can he create a new life and find a new purpose and freedom — real inner freedom?

William H. Coles’ novel is a character-driven thriller that explores a man’s fall from grace as a result of his tragic flaws. The first part of the book introduces readers to McDowell’s world, his activities, his treatment of people less fortunate than himself, and his manner of exercising power and ego. The opening is compelling, a captivating narration about Hiram leaving Woolf to die in the frozen mountains in spite of the latter begging, “Don’t leave me, Hiram.” There is something very revelatory about this man in the two sentences that conclude that scene: “On return home after his miracle survival, Hiram dreamed of immortality.” Coles offers an array of interesting characters, but the focus on McDowell and his humanity are what sets this novel apart and establishes its depth. This author deftly explores the idea of how our decisions and choices in life follow us. There is a powerful shift as readers switch from experiencing hatred for this unconventional protagonist to feeling pity for him as he struggles to mend his life. The writing is gorgeous and Coles’ ability to build a strong connection between readers and characters — thanks to the intelligent use of realism in the writing —augments the entertainment potential of the story. McDowell is a winner for fans of literary fiction and psychological thrillers with characters that are robust and complex.

Review Date: May 18, 2022

Also available as Audiobook: Silver medal winner in the 2021 Reader's Favorite Award

Reviews from Indie Book Reviews:

– “McDowell” by William H. Coles is truly a great piece of storytelling, and any literary and character drama fan should go and read this (and the other novels by this author). There are several familiar arch types and tropes that border on cliché, but Coles manages to just avoid it with compelling backstory and genuine character development with the believable relationships that develop amongst the characters (especially with McDowell and his family). While Hiram McDowell is clearly the main figure in this novel (hence the title), he only exists due to the strength of the supporting cast. As with his other novels, Coles’ writing is terrific. However, the strongest part of this book for me is how Coles does a great job of fleshing out his characters so as not to be the stock cut-outs or even the caricatures they could so easily be due to their extraordinary situations (esp. McDowell). It gets close at times, but they are flawed enough and real enough to maintain a sense of believability and gets better as the books progress. Great descriptions and character intrigue pulls us into the world, and complex personal drama and scandals keeps us there. Some adult scenes and language but suitable for mature teens and older. (5 stars)
– I’m really becoming a fan of William H. Coles’s books… this is the third one I’ve read from him – the first two being “Guardian of Deceit” and “the Spirit of Want”. This one, “McDowell” is written in the same sort of way as the others, yet has its very own distinctive feel. In addition to being a riveting character-driven drama, it addresses several important cultural and social and personal events that brings more depth to the storyline. Like Coles’ other books, the writing is solid, there is lots of great character action and plenty of twists (which while a tad detectable still entertaining), lots of interesting dialogue between the leads and the supporting cast as well, and daunting personal and romantic obstacles to overcome. If you’re looking for something that is light years out of the ordinary in lit fiction, then this is definitely a great book for you. I like the way that Coles writes so descriptively and really makes us know the characters inside and out. Fast paced and even though there are more italics than I prefer (hard on my eyes), I flew through this book a quickly as I did the others and was sad to finish – although the ending is fitting and bittersweet. (4-5 stars)
– This is my third novel now by William H. Coles, and they have all been very, very good. I like the fact that “McDowell” is a fully-realized character-driven literary novel without all the bloat that we sometimes see in the genre (excessive descriptions, purple prose, meandering dialogue that goes nowhere…). Coles fills you in as we go without getting bogged down in describing every last thing. The story moves forward and you can’t help but get sucked into Coles’s strong narrative. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the characters, which were amazing, as usual. McDowell is a great lead, although he is super flawed and of questionable morals, this is what makes his storyline so compelling, and I enjoyed watching his relationship with the other characters develop over the course of the action. Some similar themes and motifs found in typical lit-fiction, but as usual Coles does a fantastic job of putting his own unique spin on them. I always appreciate how his characters’ stories don’t just get wrapped up with a neat little bow and the cliché ‘happy ever after’ at the end, but feel real and more ‘real life’. My only real complaint was that many key events felt ‘summed up’ in the narration, and some pivotal scenes (like Hiram’s fate) happens ‘off stage’ and we don’t actually get to experience it but are told about it (this happens a few other times too). Just misses out on the opportunity for more emotional impact, in my opinion. But still a powerful, memorable read and I am ready to read more great books from William H. Coles! (4 stars)

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McDowell by William H. Coles is a literary fiction read that features crime, family, and one man’s epic fall from grace to grass and his pursuit of meaning, inner freedom, and redemption. Meet surgeon McDowell, an arrogant and selfish man who only thinks about himself and his children. But as life always has a way of putting people where they belong, he soon loses his wealth and reputation and his career falls apart, thanks to a grandson who commits a series of murders and yet fails to take his own life. This leaves the family with a vegetable. But then the grandson dies in a mysterious way, and all hands are pointing at McDowell. Read on to experience the family drama, the intense suffering, and how he will make one last attempt to redeem his life after his conviction.

William H. Coles has written a story that has a lot of entertainment for readers. It is also one that comes with powerful lessons on love and giving. I enjoyed following the journey of the protagonist, watching him descend to the lowest level of society to learn meaning and the real purpose of life in unlikely places. The story is beautifully told, in elegant and crisp prose that will entice readers to keep reading on. The writing features beautiful passages that unveil strong emotions. The story is both emotionally and psychologically charged and readers will love the way the conflict develops and how it drives the plot forward. McDowell is a great story from a master entertainer, a story with powerful lessons for life.
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