Books written during the 2020 lockdown are already hitting the shelves, some directly referencing the pandemic, others avoiding it completely to provide some escapism for their readers. Paul Clayton’s new novel The Hoax, published by 2QT Limited and available now, does the latter; a family mystery centred around an elaborate deception that sacrifices character depth and growth for twisty plot developments that accelerate the story.
When Henry Baxter goes missing for a dare, he meets the strange Cora who gives him some bedding to sleep in the park before returning him home the next day to his mum Frankie. Soon Cora has inveigled her way into the lives of a single mother with three children becoming confidant, friend and patron. But when a dastardly trick is played on Frankie a web of deceit is finally revealed with links to a forgotten past.
Clayton’s novel has the feel of a young adult escapade with its focus on teenage adventuring, straightforward narrative style and use of short, simple sentences through which Clayton creates tension. This is a long novel but with short chapters the plot skips along pretty quickly, making this an easy read.
The Hoax has a dual structure, the first set in the present day chronologically charting the story of the Baxters and their slippery new acquaintance, while the second follows childhood friends Lottie and Little Girl who meet in social care and then lose touch – the former having committed a serious crime. The connection between these two strands proves no surprise and while pivotal to the book’s rather melodramatic conclusion, it adds greater burdens to Clayton’s sometimes laboured plot choices.
There are just too many ideas in The Hoax that create a chain of coincidences and dramatic events that have little credibility. There are kidnappings, deceptions, unlikely murders that are slightly tangential to the eventual outcome and new dramas for the Baxter family to manage every few chapters, while the big finale unsatisfactorily takes place in an entirely new and unrelated location – although one character reveal here is well managed.
Mum Frankie is a sympathetic character and the continual hardships visited on her family are outrageous enough for the reader to hope for her victory over them. Her three children are less distinct and some last-minute criminal tendencies (unsatisfactorily introduced and examined) are justified by the context of the family’s desperation. Cora is suitably ambiguous with an oddball style and grand gestures that ensure she is more than she seems.
Clayton’s novel rattles along well enough but flirts insufficiently with murder, mystery and adventure genres without quite committing to any of them. The convoluted plot doesn’t always match the simple writing style and, while you will certainly guess its outcomes, The Hoax is an easy weekend read while lockdown restrictions continue.
Release Date: Out Now