In this historical novel based on a true story, a man operates as a doctor in both the United States and Ireland, despite having only a GED and a handful of forged credentials.
Desmond Donahue is born in Ireland during World War II and grows up in crippling poverty. His pursuit of education is always threatened by the necessity of working to support his family. He leaves his small town of Ballymorris to take various construction jobs in London, until a chance encounter with a stranger on a train gives him an opportunity to go to America. In Chicago, he witnesses the excitement and importance of physicians at Cook County General Hospital and resolves to become a doctor; he earns his GED and returns to Ireland to study medicine in Cork. The specter of his impoverished upbringing pushes him to work harder, but also causes him to pursue shortcuts in his studies. His wastrel friend, Dr. Roger Connolly, woos him into accepting forged medical credentials in order to join his practice. Desmond eventually becomes a surgeon in Florida, but after an automobile accident, he’s drawn into a court battle that turns his secret into headline news. O’Connor’s (The Barbarossa Covenant, 2015) novel straddles fiction and nonfiction, as he crafted much of it from documents from a real-life acquaintance who served as the inspiration for Desmond. As the author paints him, Desmond is a thoughtful figure, truthfully dedicated to helping others, but always motivated by the poverty of his youth. This creates a sympathetic but believably contradictory character—a man living a constant falsehood while also judging his fellow deceivers, such as a doctor named Murray Whittle, who’s defrauding nursing home patients, and the beautiful Margaret Kerrigan, who fakes a marriage with Desmond seemingly to take revenge on another doctor who broke her heart. O’Connor handles Desmond’s later struggle with depression and the hopelessness he feels after being exposed with a rare delicacy. Ultimately, however, although the novel is sympathetic to Desmond’s plight, it does little to explore how his falsehoods affect other characters.
An intimate look at a life lived as a lie.