Tag Archives: journalism

Jon Wells, crime writer

I drove through a pretty intense thunder storm last night to see Jon Wells, the Hamilton Spectator’s premier crime writer, at a Canadian Authors Association meeting in St Catharines.

I’ve been a Spec subscriber for about a year and a half, since we moved back to the 905 after eight years in the Waterloo/Wellington wilderness. Unfortunately the daily routine hasn’t allowed for a long perusal of each weekday edition, but as a Hamilton native I do have a sentimental attachment to the paper. It turns out I like Wells’s work, too, although I had never really attached a name to the stories of his that I’d read.

Wells is an interesting case in journalism: a lot of his work has been long-form journalism, stories that are published daily for days or weeks at a time, his longest ones running thirty-one and forty-two days. He got a deal with Wiley to turn four of them into books, and the fourth has just been published (links below).

Where his skill as a writer lies, I think, is how tighly he grips the reader in the first two or three paragraphs. Sure, there are the elements that every reporter uses to hook the reader — gore and violence, foreboding evil, schmaltzy descriptions of the innocent victims and their grieving families. This is the stuff of crime writing though, and it’s nice to see that Wells is willing to provide counterpoint to the excesses.

An example: the grieving mother of Pat del Sordo in the series Witness. Pat was apparently beloved by everyone he’s ever met, and was bludgeoned to death in a senseless double murder, probably while he slept. His mother praises his goodness, how he was there for his parents whenever they needed him. Yet by the end of the story, the killer behind bars, she doesn’t provide the easy closure you’d expect from the story. She’s still really angry, still dissatisfied with the way the investigation went, how the case was solved. Hardly a cardboard cutout of the grieving mother character. So even the elements that I typically am less a fan of in crime writing are redeemed in Wells’s work, making his work that much more satisfying to read.

Anyhow, it was a great little talk, not only because he is an obviously skilled and experienced writer, but also because Wells is a really, really nice guy. I’m looking forward to reading a lot more of his work.

Books by Jon Wells: