Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Rosedale Horror (1980) by Jon Ruddy

The Rosedale Horror (1980) by Jon Ruddy: This Canadian paperback original from defunct Canadian paperback imprint Paperjacks is shocking in its goodness. It's a haunted-house story with a twist, set in Toronto's tony Rosedale neighbourhood in 1974. Ruddy was a long-time newspaper reporter, and it shows: he grounds all the horror elements in detailed, specific, and often quite funny and illuminating glimpses of life at a failing Toronto newspaper in the 1970's. 

The specifics of newspaper work on a variety of fronts from daily news columnist to police reporter to freelance writer give the proceedings a real verisimilitude. That the book is often scathingly funny about life at a tabloid and about Toronto the Good really helps things.

Ruddy also carries off a difficult bit of structure. The Rosedale Horror is told in six sections, each focused in the third-person on a specific character, though there is also some first-person narration by way of a tape recorder. And it all works both as characterization and as a builder of suspense.

There are elements in the text which at times seem sexist. Some of them fall into the realm of a sort of R-rated Leacockian satire directed at certain men and women alike, including a female relationship columnist and a male news columnist. Ultimately, the novel isn't sexist, though some of its characters are sexist and, in a couple of cases, somewhat predatory.

Ruddy manages several scenes of horror shot through with the occasional bit of grotesque humour. That tape-recorded first-person monologue is one of the two deftest bits of horror, revealing gradually a mind both ill and toxically malign. A rape scene also manages to horrify without seeming exploitative -- no small feat in any novel, and Ruddy amplifies the effect by having the rapist himself under the malign mental influence of something awful.

The Rosedale Horror certainly has its pulpy elements, but they never undercut the horror and the comedic in Ruddy's novel. As both horror and pointed, satiric social commentary, The Rosedale Horror is far superior to many, many novels I've read by far more celebrated authors. It's also hard to go wrong with a novel in which a character is murdered by being telepathically forced to urinate on the third rail of the Toronto subway line. Recommended.

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