It doesn’t take a lot of digging to suspect Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is a troubled man. His scandalous antics – ranging from public inebriation, racial and homophobic slurs to alleged videos of him smoking crack cocaine and associating with well-known Etobicoke criminals – made international headlines in 2013, and provided a generous amount of material for late-night talk show hosts.
But for Toronto Star reporter and author, Robyn Doolittle, every startling headline she wrote about Rob Ford would be a teaser to a much bigger story four years in the making.
Crazy Town, Doolittle’s debut novel, was released last month, and tells the story of how one cryptic phone call from Mohamed Farah (who was originally an anonymous source) about an alleged video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, led to years of unchartered territory for herself and the City of Toronto.
The reporter’s account of the mayor’s personal and public life – in association with criminal activity – is already being considered for film.
Crazy Town begins with an overall timeline of Toronto’s development, the Ford family background and political ambitions (including his father Doug Sr. and his older brother and fellow councillor, Doug Jr.). This novel is a fully-disclosed account of how she came to know and suspect so much about the mayor of one of Canada’s largest cities. Doolittle did everything from staking out restaurants in an effort to find sources who were threatened with dismissal for coming forward and attending police raids on the Dixon City Bloods street gang in Etobicoke, to getting into vehicles with strangers to watch the now-notorious (and not yet public) video of Ford allegedly smoking crack.
At the height of the controversy in late 2013, Doolittle claimed it was much like living an episode of the television series, The Wire (a crime show with events pulled from outrageous newspaper headlines), and refers to the character of the man at the centre of it all as “stranger than fiction.”
Pulling newspaper articles, transcribing once-confidential interviews and revealing sources who were no longer anonymous because they were facing criminal charges, she provides much of the context that would not fit in a standard news story. Thankfully due to time, arrests and public accessibility, most facts and names have been disclosed. Doolittle provides more than just cut-and-dry facts about each incident or tip. It is only when she expresses her frustration or loneliness in being unable to share details with family or friends at the time, that the reader is reminded that this novel is not a piece of fiction – it’s modern, scandalous history that most are unaware of, in its full context.
Sifting through Ford family history of drug abuse, wealth, and a sense of competition and tensions with one another, the reader is able to understand the environment that shaped Ford.
While Doolittle explains Rob and Doug Ford’s co-dependence and political tag-team as an inherited sense of loyalty to the family name (rather than each other) and desire to extend the family legacy, loyalty is a recurring theme in the book.
She explains her loyalty is to the public interest. “We were confident that the mayor had a drinking problem and that his staff wanted him to get help. The next part was proving the public interest. Rob Ford was not the first political leader to struggle with alcohol. That private battle becomes public news only after it begins to impact the official’s job,” Doolittle wrote.
Her explicit version of events is a means of journalistic transparency. Reading slightly like a necessary attempt at restoring the Toronto Star’s reputation, the revelations read as a win for legality and ethics, after the newspaper and its staff were labelled as pathological liars by the mayor and had their image destroyed by public opinion.
Crazy Town reads like a well-planned, highly informed crime novel that paints a clear portrait of each character or alleged criminal involved, draws suspected conclusions and shares more about allegations far more nefarious than substance abuse. After all of last year’s hype and controversy, it was difficult to believe anything more shocking could exist about Rob Ford – but Doolittle proves there is far more than what the headlines share and hopes more will surface in the courtrooms of Toronto.