Fiction - Literary
472 Pages
Reviewed on 06/08/2017
Buy on Amazon

Author Biography

William H. Coles

William H. Coles, MD, MS, has studied fiction in workshops with more than seventy-five authors, editors, and professors of fiction writing. He reviewed poetry for the Journal of the American Medical Association and won the Callenwolde Prize (Atlanta) for best poem (”Unwed Girl”). His debut novel, The Surgeon’s Wife, was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and has had >90,000 online readers. He recently published The Illustrated Fiction of William H. Coles 2000-2016 and Creating Literary Stories: A Fiction Writer’s Guide; two graphic stories. and has won numerous awards in the William Faulkner Creative Writing (2007-2016), The Sandhills Writers’ Competition, and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction (2010).

He is a former ophthalmic surgeon specializing in ocular trauma who served as Department Chairman, State University of New York; Regent for the American College of Surgeons; President Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology. He lives in Salt Lake City and has lectured internationally on surgery, Georgian antique furniture, jazz, poetry, and creative writing. He has held academic appointments at Louisiana State University, Medical University of South Carolina, Emory University School of Medicine, and State University of New York at Buffalo where he is presently Professor Emeritus. He created the website with resources to create literature as an art form. He teaches writing of literary fiction stories online in a workshop and tutorial.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite

McDowell by William H. Coles is a family saga that follows the life of a selfish and arrogant surgeon, who suffers an epic fall from grace, and the path he travels to redemption. McDowell cares for no one but his children. But then he loses everything when his grandson commits multiple murders and fails in his suicide attempt, which leaves him paralyzed mentally. But the boy dies in very unusual circumstances and McDowell gets a conviction for second-degree murder. He is jailed. Now watch as he escapes and lives as a fugitive, pursued by the authorities and a reporter who is just too eager to interview him before the police catch up with him. Watch as he learns the virtues of humanity the hard way, by taking a path trodden by those he despised when he was powerful and rich. It’s a story that follows a man’s transformation, and his somewhat spiritual odyssey to a life that has meaning.

William H. Coles has created a compelling character in McDowell, a character forced to embrace the essence of humanity by harsh circumstances. Can he really find redemption? It is fascinating how the character evoked powerful emotions in me and how those emotions evolved as I read on. At the beginning of the story, I detested this character, but his inner journey brought me around and, instead of a sense of revulsion for the man he was, I learned to look at him with sympathy. Here is a story that is character-driven and that explores what is essential in human nature. It is a story that is filled with powerful lessons while entertaining readers hugely. I was completely drawn into the dynamics of the story and read through it non stop. Great story, awesome characters, impeccable plot lines.

Viga Boland

Fans of popular fiction might be inclined to pass over books classified as literary fiction. What a mistake that would be in the case of McDowell by William H. Coles. While a good plot is essential to all fiction, in literary fiction the exploration of character takes precedence over plot. And why not? After all, isn’t it what people do, think and feel…what motivates and demotivates them…that either propels them to climb to the summit of their abilities or plummets them into hell on earth?

This, and what Dr. McDowell, a brilliant, but self-centered surgeon discovers about himself, is what stays with readers after they finish this absorbing story. When we first meet Dr. McDowell, there is little to like about him. His achievements in both business, medicine, mountain climbing and empire building are impressive, but his actions, words, and insensitivity to the needs of his family, friends and colleagues are reprehensible. He is a powerful man and it’s his way or the highway at all times. His only saving grace is his love of his children and the work he does for the poor in Nepal.

But the latter comes under severe scrutiny once a TV journalist, Paige, is assigned to do a series on the high-profile Dr. McDowell. Bit by bit, McDowell’s world falls apart, coming to a head when he removes his grandson, a mass murderer, from life support. Until the very last page, readers will be debating the real reasons for Dr. McDowell becoming a murderer himself by taking such action, action for which, by the way, he ends up being convicted and imprisoned. But it’s over the years following his escape from prison, that through the people he meets while on the run, McDowell comes face to face with himself. What he learns about himself and others leaves readers thinking about life, art, humanity and our place on this earth in ways we may not yet have pondered. It’s a revelation for both McDowell and readers.

There’s an interesting twist to McDowell that will capture the minds of aspiring writers. While McDowell is on the run, and as he talks to more and more people, he begins writing his memoir. What he learns about writing, for example, one has to know what makes people do what they do “to write anything significant,” really hits home. It’s something all writers should know. But do they, in their haste to churn out books with fast-moving plots, always create something “significant” It’s William H. Coles' ability to create something significant, time and again, that has earned him a multitude of writing awards. His bio is impressive; so is his bibliography. Once you read McDowell, you will, like me, be looking for more books by William H. Coles. I can’t wait to get started on the next one in my collection. Not bad for someone who, until McDowell, had forgotten the beauty of literary fiction.

Raanan Geberer

McDowell: A Novel by William H. Coles is about Dr. Hiram McDowell, an “alpha male” if there ever was one. He heads a Department of Surgery, plays rock guitar, climbs mountains in the Himalayas, runs marathons, has established a hospital in Nepal, and has been elected president of the International College of Surgeons. At home, however, it’s a different story. He acts callously toward his wife, doesn’t care if she knows he has another woman in Nepal, and is only involved superficially with his children’s lives. Now, another surgeon, whom McDowell passed up for executive director of the College of Surgeons, and an aging TV reporter, who’s anxious to prove she’s still relevant, are both on McDowell’s trail, independently of each other. They’ve discovered irregularities in his laboratory and financial improprieties in his charity in Nepal, as well as false statements in his autobiography. And that’s only the first step in his problems—problems that eventually will make him a fugitive on the run.

McDowell by William H. Coles is an extremely exciting, well-written novel. The medical information, such as it is, is written in a way that laymen can understand. Coles does a good job of taking us into the world of elite upper-class professionals, where ambition and international travel take a front seat, but family unfortunately takes a back seat. We’re not really sure why McDowell is so driven—late in the book, when someone asks him why money and prestige are so important to him, he draws a blank—but he was likely raised that way, since his family was wealthy enough to own a stable of race horses. McDowell has no easy answers; he doesn’t undergo a miraculous transformation into a “good person.” In every way, however, I would recommend McDowell. An excellent book.

Ruffina Oserio

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.

Sefina Hawke

McDowell by William H. Coles is a literary fiction novel that would appeal most to a diverse audience of young adults and adults who enjoy mystery thrillers. McDowell is an arrogant surgeon and father of three who has a distinguished career. That all changed when his grandson goes on a massive killing spree that only ends with his failed suicide. When the young man dies under suspicious circumstances, McDowell becomes a suspect. McDowell quickly finds himself convicted of second-degree murder and becomes a fugitive. While on the run, McDowell works to set up a new identity and finds himself having to begin his new life at the lowest level of society. Will McDowell's experiences as a lower class member of society help him to grow as a person or will he remain set in his selfish ways?

McDowell by William H. Coles was a book that reminded me of the Marvel movie Doctor Strange with how both main characters were arrogant surgeons who seemed to not give much thought or care for those that did not directly affect them. However, this book sets itself apart from Doctor Strange with how McDowell not only lost his career, but also his freedom due to being convicted for his own grandson’s murder. I enjoyed the way that McDowell developed and grew as a character during the course of the book; his journey away from arrogance truly allowed him to undergo massive amounts of character development and introspection. I personally found the way the author ended the book to be both surprising and realistic.

Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Review by Lisa Brown-Gilbert for McDowell

William H. Coles’McDowell doses readers with literate medicine for the mind and soul, with a distinctive and engrossing work of dramatic fiction that craftily embeds a story of self-discovery within the world of the modern medical profession. It delves into the life and psyche of surgeon Hiram McDowell, a medical professional at the pinnacle of his success who dwells at the lowest points of morality.

From the story’s outset, readers will find they are immediately engrossed in the life of protagonist Dr. Hiram McDowell. He lives a dual existence in his world which teems, with wealth, opportunity and privilege. To the outside world he wears the facade of an ambitious humanitarian and expert in his field, but to those who know him more intimately he is morally flawed with only his own interests and needs at heart. Altogether, McDowell severely lacks in common human decency; he is crude to his family, ignores and openly cheats on his wife, looks only to serve his goals within his profession, revels in deceptiveness, steps on the toes of colleagues and misappropriated charitable funds. Moreover, the focus of the story is not just mainly on McDowell; it also brings into focus his family dynamic and the effects that his behavior therefore has on his family, particularly his two closest children.

Ultimately, he makes enemies out of those that once trusted him and perpetuates conflicts of self- esteem within those that attempt to love him. An almost seemingly hopeless cause, it piques the curiosity to see where things go for him. Eventually McDowell’s moral deficiencies become his complete downfall and he is consequently forced to live a life of poverty and solitude with his wealth, fame and power far removed from his life. Forced to live as an itinerant fugitive, and meanwhile, surviving by his wits, he gradually learns, to humble himself and become a more humane human for his survival among everyday folk.

Wholly, enjoyable McDowell was a richly realized and realistically detailed read that was character driven and moved at a balanced pace. Hiram McDowell turned out to be a strongly posed, despisable and simultaneously engrossing character whose ethical flaws catalyzed his journey to his self discovery. Overall, author William H. Coles writes with a literate aplomb that is both evocative and entertaining especially when it comes to detailing aspects of the medical profession and facets of human nature. My only contention about this read is the presence of some minor editing issues. But, issues aside, this was a worthy read and I do recommend it.



A novel follows a surgeon who possesses all the material comforts anyone could want, but harbors a deep lacking in his soul.

When readers first meet Hiram McDowell, he is leaving a hiking partner for dead and trying to make it back down a mountain in Nepal in 1981. It’s hard to judge if McDowell is simply callous and cruel or whether this is an issue of survival. Everything readers learn about him in the next few chapters, though, shows he is a pig who treats women like objects and deceives his third wife, Carole Mastriano. He’s also power-hungry, cheating a colleague, Michael O’Leary, out of a post on his way to becoming president of the International College of Surgeons. The one soft spot he has is for his three kids: Billie, who gets in trouble with one of Carole’s daughters; Ann, who copes with a turbulent marriage and mean children; and Sophie, who seeks to find her professional footing as a photographer. The tales start to converge when Paige Sterling, a journalist in her 50s fighting sexism at her network to keep her job, is assigned to cover McDowell’s story. Tragedy befalls the family when Ann’s son Jeremy goes on a killing spree, which leads to McDowell’s ultimate downfall when he is convicted of murdering the culprit in his hospital bed. McDowell escapes from prison and begins an unlikely association with a bookstore owner named Maud and her family. That gives him a chance at spiritual redemption while Sterling and the police try to hunt him down. Coles (Sister Carrie, 2016, etc.) has a knack for creating distinct characters. From McDowell to the members of Sterling’s crew in Nepal, they all have their own personalities. No player is wasted as a mere plot device. The author also expertly weaves together varied threads, though there are certain points where the story jumps forward past important action. But Billie revealing his indiscretions and his desire to be an artist; Sophie struggling to find herself after her partner is murdered; Ann navigating her marriage; and Sterling using unexpected opportunities all dovetail well with McDowell’s arc.

This worthy tale delivers an epic feel and strong characters.