Cover Image: Helltown

Helltown

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I liked this book. It was a good thriller. Based on a true story which was creepy but overall I’d recommend
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Thank you to Sourcebooks for the copy of Helltown  by Casey Sherman; this is a nonfiction account of the Cape Cod serial killer Tony Costa.  This is my honest review.

I am a fan of true crime and nonfiction; I am a long standing fan of mysteries and serial killer stories.  I thought this would be right up my alley but it did not work for me and I can't recommend it.  For me the writing style was weak and felt misogynistic and made up, problematic for a non fiction book and for a big picture examination of violence against women.  This felt like a fiction book and I did not have a sense of where source information for written dialogue and presentation of cognitive states/thoughts Costs and others were written to have.  The weaving in of Vonnegut and other literary figures did not add to the narrative development and muddied the focus of the book as well.
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This did not read nor even feel like a true crime book. The story was drawn out and sections of the lives of authors Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were thrown in to extend the story. I found no other reason to include anything about them except the stories were in the same time period as the murders and in the same general vicinity. I found myself frustrated and tired of reading the author mentioning the upcoming book at the time, The Slaughterhouse Five. I ended up skipping chapters that had nothing to do with the actual murderer in the story, Tony Costas. 

There was so much added dialogue and personal thoughts from the "characters" involved (for lack of a better word) . It made this albeit gruesome story seem fictional. I honestly couldn't even finish this book. I was just too frustrated with the whole thing. While I am very thankful for being given the chance to read and review another book, this particular book just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I need to delete it from my kindle now.
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This was a WILD story. It was jam-packed with knowledge, murder, and some relaxed little hippie vibe. Helltown needs to be on every true crime lover's radar.
I never heard of Tony Costa, but holy crap, now I will never forget him. This whole book was just absolutely insane. Please do yourself a favour and request this book and then obsessively search google for every little detail . The author has conducted extensive research, evidenced by the footnotes and references, and I appreciated that. However, I still found it to be just an okay read.
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This was a very difficult book for me to get through. 1, it would be better if it was straight fiction. Some of the scenes include the victims’ trains of thought which is obviously embellished because the victims are dead. 2, I didn’t like Norman Mailer & Kurt Vonnegut when I was required to read them. I like them even less when more of the story is about their rivalry than it is about the killer himself. 3 stars, some people are going to love it but I just did not.
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Thanks to Sourcebooks Non-Fiction, Netgalley and the author, for an ARC of this book.  I am leaving this review voluntarily and have not been compensated for it.

This is a True Crime Non-Fiction book with fictional elements based on the murders of several women in Cape Cod during the late 60's.  Antone (Tony) Costa was convicted of the crimes and the book tells the story about the crimes, the investigation, his trial and the aftermath.  It also weaves in several other elements that give this retelling depth.  In particular, it's the involvement of Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, two native Cape Codders, that makes this book really interesting.  Both novelists, despite being at different stages of their career, are deeply affected by the murders and their future works are definitely influenced by these horrific events.

The counter-culture of the late 60's, satanic panic, the use of psychedelic drugs and the unique blend of holiday-makers and locals in Cape Cod provide a vivid background to the events described in the book and provide context.

This book have obviously been heavily researched, but it's the fictional element, the inclusion of Costa's internal dialogue, the characterisation of the authority figures involved in the investigation and subsequent trial and the 'coven' of young hippy Costa-followers, that provide realism and make this book more compelling.

Similarly, the way that Charles Manson and his followers, Ted Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the publishing of Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five', give the reader a sense of place and time as well as an understanding of social and political culture at that time.

I think the men, in general, in this book come off as egotistical misogynists with the exception of Bernie Flynn, Tom Gunner and Armand Fernandes.  Even Mailer and Vonnegut, while obviously cultural icons, appear to have been abusive to the women in their lives.  

While the book does focus on Tony Costa, he is not idealised in any way.  This feels like an authentic retelling of events with the inclusion of intimate details of the case and the people involved.  There are sensational elements, sure - these events are shocking and the inclusion of some of the details of the killing are horrific.  But all in all, I think the story has been written respectfully and faithfully.

I'm interested to hear that the rights to this book have been bought by Robert Downey Jr. and his wife.  I will keep an eye out for the film or tv show.
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“Helltown is a work of fact told with elements of fiction storytelling.” – Casey Sherman

Non-fiction can be hit or miss for me but I greatly enjoyed this one.  Whereas I knew about other historical events/information included within this story, I had never heard of the serial killer Tony Costa.  My parents hadn’t heard of these murders either.  Granted they had moved away from Western Mass about 5 years prior, Vietnam was still going on, and Charles Manson hit the west coast by storm before Costa went to trial so that might have taken away some of the attention.

There are a few storylines within the book but the main topic is the gruesome murders of 5 young women.  Some were locals and others were not.  All were lives taken way too soon by a drug addict with an alter ego controlling his actions.  I thought all the stories were well told and blended together nicely so I would say it was well written.  I definitely recommend it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for gifting me with an advanced copy to read and review.
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‘Helltown’, is my first Casey Sherman book,  but it won’t be my last.  Although this was not my usual type of book, I enjoyed learning about the Cape Cod murders of 1969 in Provincetown, MA.  The author is a nephew of one of the victims of the Boston Strangler from the 1960’s.  I enjoyed reading about the rivalry between Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, and their time on Cape Cod.
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I was confused about the categorization of,this book. Is it no fiction or fiction? I thought it was non fiction, but so much of the dialogue had to be fabricated. In the author’s end note he calls it a novel, but provides pages of documentation of resources and research.
I think the author should have made the demarcations much more clearer.
In any case, it illustrates what a barbaric Sicko Tony Costa really was.
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I really struggled to get into this book. The first half felt very confusing to me and it was hard to keep the stories straight. I was going in as if this was a true crime book. It does not feel like a true crime book and the blend with fiction made it difficult to read. The second half was definitely better as it gave more details on the story of this killer. However by the time I got to this point, I had sort of lost interest. I felt this book could have been a lot shorter and more focussed. This would be a great read for those who are interested in where there two writers come from with a little true crim mixed in. This one just didnt work for me.
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This is not at all what I was expecting from this book. I enjoy true crime and was looking forward to learning about Costa as I had never heard of him. But the way it’s written is just cringey. It’s sensationalized and has elements of fictional storytelling which I feel is disrespectful to the victims. True crime should provide the facts and give a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves, not “entertain readers” with dramatization. I also found it weird adding in a storyline with Kurt Vonnegut-I understand he wrote articles on the murders but there’s no point in diving into a fictional plot line for him. Honestly infuriating what this author has done, shame.
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Thank you Sourcebooks and NetGalley for the ARC of Helltown by Casey Sherman.  This is definitely a story that needed to be told. Tony Costa reminds me some of Ted Bundy.  His charm and good looks protected him from suspiscion for far too long from the murders happening all around him.  Local writers in Cape Cod, Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer try to put the pieces together themselves so that they can launch their writing careers even further. We are taken back to the 60's into a world of drugs, deceit, and a gruesome trail of murders that are unimaginable.
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Helltown is a true crime story about the serial killer Tony Costa who was active in the 1960's in Cape Cod.  I was looking forward to reading this book because I was unfamiliar with Tony Costa and his crimes; however, I did not like how the story was presented.  I understand adding some characters and dialogue to true crime stories makes the stories more interesting to read, but so much of this book seemed to deal with artistic liberties rather than the facts.  I have no doubt that Sherman carefully researched Costa, but so much of the story seemed to be based on true events as opposed to just the facts.  The author's note explains that Helltown is based on fact with elements of fiction storytelling.  This just didn't work for me.  I need my true crime stories to be more source material and less fictionalized.  I also did not like the inclusion of Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer throughout the book.  It would have been enough to mention the authors since they wrote articles concerning this, but not to create entire drawn out story lines.  This distracted from the entire purpose of the book which was to learn about Tony Costa.  I wanted more background on him and the police investigation.  I did not want all of the extra information.  This book did not work for me and ultimately I did not finish the book because I just couldn't connect with the story.
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Wow was this book something I was not expecting! I couldn’t put it down and when I did I had to grab it for just one more chapter. Great night time read.
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I feel very conflicted about this book. On one hand its narrative style gave the reader a more insightful view into both an infamous true crime story but also to the history of Provincetown and the Cape Cod region. However, I feel the fictional suppositions and reconstructions are a little too sensational and extreme. It degrades from the overall feeling of the book and takes away from the fact that this book was based on very true and horrific events. It felt like a disservice to the victims and their families and friends. I think the author was attempting to capture both the vibe of Provincetown and the intense misogyny held not only by the serial killer Tony Costa but also the famous authors and power players of the region. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I now have a deep dislike of Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut (not that I esteemed them before this book). Profiting off of the pain caused from true crime is very uncouth in my opinion and I prefer to read works that attempt to give voices to the victims and/or informs readers on forensics advancements involved in the case. Basically I enjoy true crime that elevates the topic and brings compassion to the table. I did not feel like this book did that. I give it two and a half stars because while it is well written in its mechanics and research, it missed out on something essential in the execution.
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Helltown is a unique rendering of the crimes of one serial killer and the rivalry of two famous authors who both cross his path. Set in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1969, Casey Sherman begins his tale with the faltering writing career of local writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr and his envy of native author Norman Mailer's success. Both authors lived in or around the area and had peripheral contact with the serial killer Tony Costa. 

Sherman eventually connects the intersecting worlds of Costa, Vonnegut, and Mailer while also vividly painting a portrait of hippie culture and the social and political upheaval of American society in 1969. While Costa is the center of the novel's narrative, his victims are not forgotten. Sherman goes to great lengths to share details of the lives of Costa's victims. 

One of the most insightful observations of the book illuminated why most of us have never heard of Tony Costa and his victims before: the proximity in time to the Manson killings and trial. Even Costa's bizarre alter-ego, Cory, and his groupies who referred to him as "Sire" weren't enough to overshadow the sensationalism of Manson and his followers, but thanks to Casey Sherman, we now know the story of Tony Costa, his victims, and their place in history.
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This nonfiction book takes the story of the Cape Town/PTown murderer (Tony Costa) and tells his story along with the parallel and eventually intertwined stories of famous authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut (including their fascination with the case and published works as the story continued). 

The author did, however, use some fictional/storytelling elements creating conversations that may or may not have ever happened (this is confirmed in the authors note at the end). When reading true crime, I prefer straight facts. 

The author put on quite a bit of research, however I felt that the book was drug out and several parallel narratives were inserted to add additional length to the book that weren’t necessary and made it feel like the narrative drug on for longer than was needed.

This was a really interesting read on a case I haven’t heard much about previously.

3 stars.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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With the vast number of true crime books authored by Casey Sherman, I anticipated an objective factual book underpinned by a knowledgeable writer and analyst.  Instead the book is an odd admixture of fact intermixed with fiction, so far removed from objectivity that the author admits to altering facts to tell a story.  If you are looking for sensationalism that romanticizes a man who killed to rape and dissect humans, you’ve found the right book.  Unfortunately for the author, the more I read his admitted fictional maunderings the more enraged I became at his unwillingness to stick to the facts.  He did do much research and it is reflected in his copious footnotes.  But he also spent chapter after chapter name dropping famous people and events to give credence to a supposed interrelatedness that was nonexistent due to utter irrelevance.  Particularly distracting was his reliance on Vonnegut and Mailer’s fascination with their home town killer to add bulk to his novel.  And it is a novel interspersed with facts, not a nonfiction work.  The final chapters manufacture subsequent killings to have direct links to Costa but appear to have nothing but fiction as a link.  Although I was disappointed in it as a work of nonfiction, if you approach this as a ‘based on the murders of Tony Costa’ work of fiction, you may find it fascinating.
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Reading the story of Tony Costa left me feeling disturbed and yet glad that the details I was reading were not visible on a screen in front of me. While Casey Sherman does a wonderful job of bringing to life the very real happenings of murder as depicted in this book, it was very difficult to get into the prose as I was never really able to relate to one of the characters. 

As a writer and English major, I've read the works of Vonnegut before, and have only heard of Norman Mailer. It was interesting to see the intertwining of these men's various stories, yet I still struggled to find a link, a connection that would help me to enjoy the immense effort that writing this book must have required. These authors may have existed during the time of these killings, but what does one have to do with the other? Sherman draws links between Vonnegut's daughter and the fact that Mailer was close by, but beyond that I'm not sure why they were included in the story. 

Perhaps my distancing from the book was from a reaction to what was happening to these women. Killings are what we see on TV, not part of a schizophrenic's deluded monologue that continues from normal behavior to murderous action without pause. There was no triumph over the "bad guy" when they found the women's bodies, no "gotcha!" moment that I could appreciate when Costa is (spoiler alert) finally found out. 

"Helltown" is certainly a masterpiece from the perspective of weaving together events in history to the point where the reader is able to jump from the lives of its many characters to get an overall picture of what is happening. But for someone who likes the typical arc of a murder mystery, the prose left me a bit disappointed. I wanted to feel like a part of the story, rather than someone who saw things from the killer's perspective and didn't get the feeling that the narrator understood the dire consequences of his actions. 

While I cannot necessarily recommend "Helltown" to those looking for a murder mystery such as those found on "Diagnosis Murder" or "Murder, She Wrote," it is a tale that could capture those more interested in true crime than this reader. Sherman rode a fine line between fact and fiction and for some it may pay off.
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As someone who lived over 55 years in Massachusetts and vacationed in Wellfleet (not far from Provincetown in the at the time of the killings, I figured I should read the book.   There is a lot of true crime fact in the book, but I think there is also fiction.  The story is mostly about Antone (Tony) Costa, a young hippie living in Provincetown on Cape Cod.  He wants to be to be remembered as a writer and thinker, but on drugs, he becomes a serial killer of women.   The hippies all love him; he is very self confident and good looking.  Most of the action takes place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and claims to be true.   This is the time when there are protesters of the Viet Nam War, the first man lands on the moon, Mary Jane Kopechne dies in Teddy Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick, and the Manson killings take place  in California.   Also living on Cape Cod are Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, who both get tangled up with the happenings.  

The book is fairly long, and I had trouble getting into it in the beginning (I almost quit after the first four chapters, about 20% into the book), especially since I was not particularly  interested in hearing about Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut and their differences and travels, and the descriptions of the crimes were also a little too vivid for me.  However, once the grisly killings were done, the police work of trying to solve them and the proceedings at the trial were interesting.  Tony Costa was pretty smart, and was a convincing liar.  His first two killings were passed off as missing persons, and thus didn’t really come to police attention for a few years.  However, he made some serious mistakes with the last two women killed.  Costa was sure he would get away with everything right until he didn’t!
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