FROM HELL (1999-ish)

Dovetailing with the prior post about Julia Wertz’s TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH, here’s Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell’s vastly detailed exploration of late-19th century London through the eyes of detectives, prostitutes, and one serial killer.

I’m not going to lie: I have been to Whitechapel. I’ve attended one of the many Ripper tours. I’m really not into that sort of thing — true crime doesn’t hold much of an allure for me — but I’ve found off-beat tours are often the best ways to discover the delights of an unfamiliar land. (If you’re ever in New Orleans, definitely indulge yourself in one of their many tours, especially those that feature cemeteries!)

FROM HELL is an astounding achievement. As Alan Moore often does, he manages to intertwine the personal with the political, the social, and the spiritual. While FROM HELL is, at the heart of it, a tale of a disturbed person who murdered more than a few prostitutes and also about those tasked to attempt to bring him to justice, it’s mostly about London itself.

I first read FROM HELL while in London — I still have a copy of the map I picked up at the Imperial War Museum that I used as a bookmark — and I cannot recommend a better guidebook to the city apart from an A-to-Zed map. It made me understand and see and pay attention to the city so much more than I would have without it. It imbues so much with Campbell’s visual details and focus on landmarks, often without calling it out in the text itself.

One major example is their detailing of Cleopatra’s Needle, which plays a bit of a role in the book, and whose significance would have mostly been lost on me if I hadn’t read this graphic novel.

Like I said with TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH, illustrated works are astounding guiding compasses when you’re on unknown soil or concrete. Rick Steves is great and all, but if you’re a misfit, if you bristle at being called a tourist, these are the roadmaps you’re looking for.

I’ll note that there is a FROM HELL COMPANION, which is a deep dive into, well, FROM HELL, from both Moore and Campbell. It’s informative, but it is mostly text and copies of scripts and I find the original work to be a better guide; the companion sketches more into it, but will not help you navigate the city.

(Lastly: skip the film.)


(PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox) TWIN MIRROR is the most recent game from LIFE IS STRANGE developer Don’t Nod, and it certainly feels like one. It’s yet another narrative-forward interactive adventure game focused on character interactions, dialogue branches, story-changing decisions, escapism and fantasy via superhero elements, and traumatic deaths.

In fact, it eeriely mirrors the first LIFE IS STRANGE game in a number of narrative and mechanical ways, even down to the protagonist having ghosted their best friend for years, then returning to their hometown, and it essentially recreates the ‘high school dream sequence’ Max endures where you’re endlessly walking through hallways and doors.

While it doesn’t take place in the Pacific Northwest, it does take place in rural West Virginia, and even features similar sequences from LIFE IS STRANGE 2 such as road and forest exploration, as well as looking after a plucky but rebellious youth.

So, you could say Don’t Nod have more than a house style; they have a house template.

Let me rewind a bit.

TWIN MIRROR features middle-aged ex-investigative journalist washout Sam Higgs who, after being rebuffed by a marriage proposal to his co-worker Anna, abandoned his hometown after penning an expose of the town’s central mining industry, causing them to shutter and forcing many folks out of work.

He returns two years later to attend the funeral of his prior best friend and co-journalist Nick, who appears to have died in a car crash. Matters escalate, and dramatic intrigue sets in, and Sam only has Anna and a mysterious other to help him sort matters out.

What results is something that feels like an odd fusion of LIFE IS STRANGE, recent SILENT HILL games, and the Frogware Sherlock Holmes games. As mentioned earlier, it borrows a lot from LIFE IS STRANGE, but the bland, middle-aged protagonist, mining town, and guilt-obsession and illusionary characters feels very SILENT HILL, and the deduction puzzles are very Frogware. (Hell, they even include ‘Mind Palaces’.)

So, yeah, it’s an amalgamation that is perfect for me as I love all of those games, but perhaps not for everyone else.

Sadly, if you’re expecting the quirky, queer characters as seen in LIFE IS STRANGE, you should look elsewhere. These characters are straight archetypes; all older angst and repression. However, if you enjoy murder mysteries and adventure games, it’s a well-developed work.

Favorites of 2021: Video Games

Despite having acquired a PlayStation 5 in 2021, I played far fewer games than normal this year, opting instead to mindlessly whittle away at long-haul interactive experiences as opposed to short-form works. Nonetheless, here are my favorite gameplay experiences of 2021!


Thanks to the pandemic, the Assassin’s Creed series has been my interactive comfort food. I’ve sunk way too many hours into AC: ORIGINS, AC: ODYSSEY, and now AC: VALHALLA — as these series have been relatively non-taxing, rarely frustrating fare that allows me to routinely press buttons in order to check out of the hellscape of the last few years, which feature some surprisingly well-penned characters and situations, a far cry from the prior franchise games.

One of the great things about major franchise games like Assassin’s Creed are: you can play one of the entries when it launches, then wait a year or so and it’s a completely different experience, especially if you’ve purchased a season pass.

While I completed VALHALLA in 2020, I returned to it in 2021 for the two extremely generous DLC packages, which allows you to travel to both Dublin and Paris. The mission types are nothing new — really, very little has changed about the ASSASSIN’S CREED gameplay since the days of ASSASSIN’S CREED II — but the writing and character work has become far sharper and, it must be said, hornier.

These are games you can spend hours and hours and hours playing, especially if you’re like me and wants to clean the world maps of any unfinished tasks. While VALHALLA’s DLC isn’t terribly memorable — there were a number of missions where I explicitly uttered to no one: “Well, this mission is absolutely no fun.” — it works as the distraction toy that I needed for the end of 2021.


An hour or two into DEATHLOOP, I questioned whether this was a game for me, as it was maddeningly difficult and, while it featured Arkane’s signature reliance on stylish vertical level design, I was turned off by the sweaty dialogue; it felt like it was trying too hard to appeal to youths.

By the time I made it to the third or fourth hour, I’d found a groove and realized how the game wanted you to play it. Really, it’s far simpler than you’d expect — although I admit I have yet to complete the game — so far this isn’t the roguelike loop that one might expect.

Additionally, the combative dialogue? The overly agressive landscape? It grows on you. It still feels slightly performative, at least at the point I’m at in the game, but it’s a game that gets to have its cake and eat it too: slyly smart while being stylish enough to sell.


A completely unexpected, but very welcome remake of an adventure game/visual novel few of those in the US were even aware of. Oh, and it’s from Satoru Okada: the director of KID ICARUS and METROID, and the brains behind the Game Boy.

More here:


“15+ years later, is PSYCHONAUTS 2 the sequel I wanted? Yes and no. It leans far more on spectacle and less on cognitive/character visual motifs than I would have liked. It’s certainly not as idiosyncratic as the first game. However, it […] does such a great job at detailing how flawed we can be, but how we can learn to be better with some help, and how we need to accept each other on these journeys.”

More here:


While RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE has — rightfully — gained a lot of attention due to the very tall Lady Dimitrescu, it’s also a thrillingly executed bit of action-horror that only falters in the final act. It’s immensely playable, and I can’t wait for the upcoming DLC.

More here:

In my queue:


Favorites of 2021: Books

I straddle a number of release years while reading so I rarely read as many contemporary texts as I’d like, but here are my favorite 2021 works:

DREAM GIRL – Laura Lippmann

“[DREAM GIRL] is peppered with all sorts of references to old-school noirs and detective fiction, novels like THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, references to her friend and author Megan Abbott, […] so many riffs on classic Hollywood and horror films, and even a quick moment with Tess Monaghan herself. In other words, it was tailor-made for me, but there’s also a lot to appreciate about the novel from a structural standpoint. [Laura Lippman is] exceptional at setting everything up so that, right before the reveals come, the curtains fall from your eyes, and you can’t help but appreciate the breadcrumbs she’s strewn through the prior pages.”


“THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP goes above and beyond [horror tropes], and is a surprisingly brilliant example of what the genre is capable of.”

GIRL ONE – Sara Flannery Murphy

“[A] very inventive and engrossing take on, not only, the Frankenstein tale, but also witch folklore.”


“[A] classic Hollywood tale, but not the classic Hollywood tale most want to hear.”

IT NEVER ENDS – Tom Scharpling

“[As] amusing [of a memoir] as you’d expect from Scharpling, [and] far more interesting and deeper than you’d suspect.”

NIGHTBITCH – Rachel Yoder

“Nightbitch goes through one hell of a journey and, while it’s not nearly the horrific transformation tale I expected to read, it is a very satisfying one.”


“Patricia Lockwood’s novel — which is primarily concerned with self-reflecting on being extremely online, until it isn’t — may come across as utterly obnoxious to anyone who isn’t familiar with the litany of terms, memes, and bluntness that being ‘extremely online’ entails, but I’d like to think that her artful prose and peculiar framing supersedes the need for that sort of knowledge.”


“[A] tremendous accomplishment, one that I look forward to revisiting.”

2021 pieces waiting for my attention:

GIRLY DRINKS – Mallory O’Meara


COLUMBO: The Most Crucial Game (1972, S02E03)

(peacock/tubi/VOD) Gutted to hear that the world has lost Dean Stockwell. While he was in two COLUMBO episodes, my favorite of his is THE MOST CRUCIAL GAME. Dean Stockwell plays Eric Wagner, a hedonistic playboy who owns a Los Angeles football team who is murdered by the team’s manager Paul Hanlon (classic COLUMBO villain Robert Culp).

For the roughly ten minutes Stockwell is on-screen, he’s hilariously languid, lazy, high and hungover, and it’s the highlight of the episode — which is saying a lot considering how brilliant the interplay between Culp and Peter Falk always is. It’s not quite what I’d label as a classic episode of COLUMBO, but it’s an extremely enjoyable 75 minutes and, thanks to director Jeremy Kagan — perhaps best known for helming THE CHOSEN (1981) — features some of the surprisingly experimental camerawork and editing that the early COLUMBO eps are known for. You’ll be missed, Dean.

COLUMBO – Lovely but Lethal (1973, S03E01)

This was initially penned for a collection of fan essays meant to cover the entire COLUMBO series, but the collection was never realized.

Viveca Scott is not like other murderesses in Columbo. She’s not an actress. She’s not married, she’s not a scorned lover, she’s not even insecure. She’s the head of Beauty Mark, a cosmetics company so popular that even our dear detective is familiar with her face.

Despite its popularity, Beauty Mark’s stock has been fading. Viveca (Vera Miles) needs a hit, as her gloating competitor David Lang (Vincent Price) reminds her. However, Viveca has an ace up her sleeve with the brilliant-but-boozy Dr. Murcheson, a chemist skilled enough to manufacture the cosmetics holy grail: a cream that eradicates the appearance of age, aptly named Miracle.

Sadly, Murcheson’s alcoholism is a roadblock in getting Miracle to market. In the nightmarish opening, we see his sweaty, porous face splashed with red light, looking the very sight of a mad doctor as he runs some final tests on a female subject. Murcheson’s assistant chemist, Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen), simply observes until Murcheson’s tremors nick the woman’s face. Karl takes over, leaving Murcheson to find comfort in a whiskey bottle.

Murcheson evaluates the test results and tells Viveca that Miracle is a failure, the prior, very successful results a fluke, but she hears quite different news from her spy at Lang’s: mousy, loose-lipped assistant Shirley Blaine. Shirley informs Viveca that Lang just received the most ingenious cream and, in one of the more far-fetched Columbo scenes, Shirley applies the cream to a nearby maid’s face and her crow’s feet disappear!

It dawns on Viveca that Karl, Murcheson’s assistant, falsified Miracle’s latest tests and brought the cream to Lang. Instead of informing Murcheson or buying the cream from Shirley, Viveca opts to unsuccessfully bargain with Karl for Miracle’s formula. When he laughs at her escalating offers, Viveca does what few Columbo murderers do: in the heat of the moment she impetuously kills Karl, bludgeoning him with a nearby microscope. She takes Karl’s single jar of Miracle and leaves before his body cools.

Early the next morning, Columbo investigates the scene of the crime (showing more interest in finding salt for his hard-boiled egg than clues), then makes a beeline for Viveca, following her from Karl’s dartboard to Beauty Mark’s offices, then to Viveca’s ‘Fat Farm’, peppering her with questions the entire way. Upon inquiring about her history with Karl, she responds: “I like young men, Lieutenant, lots of them. And if that shocks your ancient masculine double standard, I’m sorry.” In retaliation, Viveca drags Columbo to a nude exercise group, leaving the Lieutenant flustered and eager to exit and question Murcheson.

With one irritant out of her way, Viveca goes to dispatch another. Shirley has realized that Viveca was behind Karl’s murder, and the poor girl (who just wants to be like Viveca) tries to leverage that knowledge for a Beauty Mark executive position. Instead of granting her wish, Viveca opts to murder again (another Columbo abnormality) by gifting her poisoned cigarettes. Shirley dies while smoking and driving, looking to the world as if she lost control of her car.

Unfortunately, Shirley’s death does little to prevent Columbo from piecing together the murder. He confronts Viveca and she’s taken away, an unceremonious end for a most unusual Columbo woman. Viveca was a wily, successful, independent, occasionally shortsighted woman, sadly all too capable of murder. She was an anomalous antagonist when compared to Columbo’s other killer women, co-dependents who murdered out of jealousy, revenge, or ‘easy’ money. Viveca Scott was a murderess the likes of which Columbo had never seen before, and would never see again.


I discovered the novel CURIOUS TOYS via a ‘most exciting upcoming horror novels in 2019’ post and was immediately gripped by the fact that it took place in 1915 Chicago and featured carnival workers. Buy me a ticket for that ride!

Upon reading it, it brought back memories of Lauren Beukes’ THE SHINING GIRLS (finally being realized as an Apple TV+ mini-series after many setbacks, under the title SHINING GIRLS). Both take place in old Chicago, both feature a predatory serial killer who kills young girls/women, and both have far more to say about women living in Chicago than to be victims, and both are well-worth your time.

(That said, CURIOUS TOYS isn’t nearly as high-concept as THE SHINING GIRLS, but to explain why would wade into spoiler territory, and I’ve digressed enough.)

CURIOUS TOYS starts off in Little Hell, a.k.a. Little Italy, a section of Chicago mostly ruled by the ‘Black Hand’ mafia. If you’ve seen CANDYMAN (the original — I can’t vouch for the latest as I have yet to see it) then you’ve seen the locale of Little Hell, as the Cabrini-Green projects were built there. If you’re wondering, Little Hell was named that because of the monstrous industrial factory there that lit up the horizon like a nightmare, and was often used by the Black Hand to incinerate bodies.

14-year-old Pin is a young, headstrong, burgeoning but confused queer girl, moved from Little Hell to live in a shack on the Riverview Park carnival, passing the summer until Pin can enrole in high school. Her stern, young mother has wrangled a job as a fortune teller, and dresses Pin as a boy ‘just until it’s safe.’ Pin does odd jobs for the ‘She-Male’ carnival performer Max (barkers declare him as ‘half-man/half-woman’), mostly delivering drugs to Chicago’s nascent film production studios, including screenwriter Lionel who works at Essanay Studios, which briefly produced many of Chaplin’s early films.

One day, Pin witnesses a girl a few years younger than her jump in a boat for the ‘Hell Gate’ water ride with an older man. She sees the man return solo, and she investigates the ride and finds the dead girl’s body.

What follows is a trifurcated detective fiction story, featuring real Chicagoan outsider artist Henry Darger — who has tasked himself with overseeing the girls in Riverview Park — and ex-detective, current Riverview Park muscle Francis Bacon (no relation to the artist), and Pin trying to track down this killer of girls.

Despite the fact that author Elizabeth Hand lives primarily in Maine and London, this is a surprisingly in-depth historical detective fiction novel that does right by Chicago. I’m familiar with the Riverview Park because of the old Riverview Tavern that was located by Roscoe & Damen. The Riverview Tavern not only had great burgers, but they also had a ton of Riverview Park memorabilia artfully placed around the significantly sized pub. (Sadly, they closed a few years ago. Hopefully they found a good home for the memorabilia.) While the Riverview Park was centrally located at Roscoe & Western, it took up a surprisingly large area of northern Chicago while it was active, until it closed in the mid 1960s.

As you may have guessed by some of the quoted terminology used above, some elements of this story may be problematic. I can’t go into most of them without delving into spoilers, but I believe Elizabeth Hand does attempt to contextualize them, but I feel the need to note it. (I’m not the only one to question this: if you aren’t afraid of spoilers, see )

That aside — and that’s a pretty big unspoken matter to set aside but, chances are, if you’re reading this and would be upset by it, you know what I’m talking about — it’s an exacting, thrillingly, plotted tale about the city I hold dear, and the city I love to learn about, and I especially appreciated the epilogue, but I wish the author had handled the crux of the book differently.

If you’d like to know more: Chicagoan mystery novelist Lori Rader-Day (UNDER A DARK SKY, -also- well-worth your time, and the author of the upcoming DEATH AT GREENWAY) interviewed her during the CURIOUS TOYS press tour.


When the original FAMICOM DETECTIVE CLUB: THE MISSING HEIR was released in 1988 (solely in Japan for the Famicom add-on Family Computer Disk System) it was deemed an adventure game, but nowadays this HD remaster for the Switch would almost certainly be labeled a ‘visual novel’, even though the HUD does feel quite a bit like a verb-based LucasArts SCUMM interface. (I’ll define the difference as: adventure games rely on puzzles to break up the narrative storytelling. Visual novels lack puzzle-based obstructions, relying on narrative-based ones, although THE MISSING HEIR does have one very weak puzzle that reminds me of Sierra’s MANHUNTER which, if you’ve ever played it, should make you wince.)

THE MISSING HEIR, written by Yoshio Sakamoto — also responsible for many METROID games, as well as KID ICARUS and WARIOWARE — features a bit of interactive detective fiction, along with a lot of soap opera: the head of a family business has died, and the heir cannot be found. An extremely young detective — around the age of 17 — has been brought in to investigate, at the request of a long-lasting butler of the Ayashiro family.

Unfortunately, the young detective — who, as in the style of the times, you named yourself — has taken a tumble and has amnesia, and essentially has to restart his investigation into the Ayashiro family.

I don’t want to give too much away about the tale so, apart from a few frustrating interface facets — there are times where you have to select certain menu options five or six times before a character will open up (rule of thirds, folks) — it’s a enjoyable but slight murder mystery, one of which is completely in my wheelhouse, and I’m looking forward to playing the HD remaster of the prequel, THE GIRL WHO STANDS BEHIND.

COLUMBO: -Lady in Waiting- (S01E05, 1971)

(peacock/tubi) The brilliant and multi-faceted Norman Lloyd passed away on May 10th. While he was best known as one of Orson Welles’ Mercury players, as well as Dr. Daniel Auschlander on ST. ELSEWHERE, he also directed one of the first COLUMBO episodes: -Lady in Waiting-.

-Lady in Waiting- centers around heiress Beth Chadwick (Susan Clark), a woman we’re told is homely, and she desperately wants to marry everyman Peter Hamilton (Leslie Nielsen, in his first COLUMBO appearance) but can’t gain the approval of her controlling brother Bryce, the elder heir of the family business. Her solution? Murder.

The show was still finding its footing at this time, but it — like many of the first season episodes — was playfully experimental. In the opening, Beth vividly imagines how the murder will take place through a haze of optical effects as she tears through a box of chocolates in bed. She snaps back to real life and we then see how the murder actually plays out. Lloyd does brilliant work instilling tension through a cacophony of diegetic sound, snappy edits, and post-process zooms.

While it’s not the most memorable COLUMBO episode, it features a surprising character arc for Beth, who comes out of her shell upon killing her brother. It’s a rarity to see a COLUMBO murderer mature after the committing the crime; Beth gains confidence, starts dressing and acting the way she wants, and she knows exactly how she wants to steer the family business. She’s one of the few COLUMBO murderers I sympathize with, and Lloyd did a fantastic job wrangling the episode.

Sadly, no trailer for this ep, but please enjoy this AV Club Random Roles piece between Norman Lloyd and expert interviewer Will Harris.


Seven years after I read my first — the first — Poirot novel, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, upon reading ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER I can say I’ve finally read every Poirot novel, roughly forty of them. I still have a handful of short stories saved up for a rainy day, but it’s the end of a long journey.

ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER is far from Christie’s best, but it does feature copious scenes with Christie stand-in Ariadne Oliver, who gets in a few quality digs about being a recognizable crime author. While it’s a mystery concerned with memory and recollection, there are some basic mistakes that can’t necessarily be attributed to the theme or intentional unreliable narration. Additionally, the mystery is laughably transparent. I rarely try to actively solve the mystery when reading detective fiction, but it was so obvious that I couldn’t help but do so.

It’s worth noting that, based on the theme of memory with ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, as well as some of the previously listed inaccuracies and errors, a number of folks believe that, by this time in life, Christie was suffering from dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s disease, and writing through it. (For more information, see this NPR article.)

It’s still an entertaining read, and has a handful of intriguing characters to keep your interest. Again, it’s far from the heights of early and mid-career Christie, but it’s still a Poirot novel, with Mrs. Oliver as his sidekick, and while it’s not quite an undiscovered late-in-life marvel of a work, it’s still good fun.