Cover Image: Helltown

Helltown

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Member Reviews

Three stars for this true crime novel about Tony Costa, a serial killer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the 1960s. Overall it was an interesting story, but I felt as though there were a lot of creative liberties taken with conversations and “thoughts” of people involved in the story. (It is noted in the author’s note at the end that this is a work of fact with elements of fictional story telling, which I think is helpful to know going into the story). There was a lot of information about the “hippie culture” of the time, drug use, and the 1960s overall, including a somewhat odd attempted connection to Charles Manson. I also learned information about Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer too. 
This is an interesting book that definitely makes you think about how far along crime scene investigations have come. 
Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This book delivered on what it set out to do - tell the untold story. It was gripping, but hard to read. Naturally, that was expected but still worth mentioning. Very graphic and descriptive. Read with this in mind.
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I finally had to give up and put this aside at the 50% mark as DNF.  I didn't finish for two reasons.  First, the violence is so graphically described that I couldn't stomach it -- and I read thrillers/mysteries every single day.  I have never set a book aside for graphic violence before, so that should tell you something.  Secondly, this novel is "based on a true story," but the author chose to make up dialogue on every single page.  It didn't read as true conversational dialogue at all, and it distracted from the true story.

This could have been a good novel, but it really really wasn't.
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Graphic, too much so for me, but might be right for those who enjoy violent horror.  Was rather looking forward to this as I vacation on the Cape.
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I really wanted to love this. The true crime element was what drew me in so my hopes were really high! I enjoyed the back and forth POVs. The time eras, 60s and 70s, were captured and told in a way that made you imagine every detail. The crimes were brutal and very detailed, so this isn’t for the light hearted ones. 
But here’s where things get rough for me:
I felt like the chapters were too explained or long. Too over analyzed that I found myself skipping around just to try and finish the book. Was the author just trying to add detail to add it? Too much random detail with no connections. We get it, the author researched his true crime. But I think maybe the writing style wasn’t a right fit for me so overall it was frustrating.
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Oooooh boy where to begin. Maybe I'll begin with what this ISN'T: It is NOT the story of Tony Costa, serial killer of Cape Cod. I mean, it *is*... but it's so much more. Told through the lens of the investigation into Tony Costa, Helltown is an examination of 1960's culture in Cape Cod (and by extension, the US). Prepare to learn about Kurt Vonnegut and his relationship to the case, Norman Mailer and his relationship to the case, how Vonnegut and Mailer relate to each other... and discover how the Tony Costa case, brutal as it was, was completely overshadowed by Charles Manson.

I had actually never heard of Tony Costa before reading this book. It starts by detailing the murder and grotesque dismemberment of several young women. The descriptions are extremely graphic (and I'm not a stranger to true crime). Most of this seemed to be at the beginning, and I'd say it was included more to provide an understanding of the severity and brutality of these crimes than for shock value.

At the outset I was extremely confused by the inclusion of Vonnegut and Mailer- likely my fault for not reading the synopsis closely enough. (OOH!! TRUE CRIME?! COUNT ME IN!) It did also seem a bit disjointed though and I had trouble getting into this book at first.

I really truly 100% completely appreciated the author's note at the end of the book and kind of wish I had read it first. He explains, "Helltown is a work of fact told with elements of fiction storytelling." Ohhhhhhhh. I did find myself wondering in certain parts how he could have known certain things that he was writing. It made much more sense after I read that single sentence. He adds, "If it worked, that's great. If it didn't, so it goes..." I'm not sure it completely worked for me personally but I do respect the tactic. And I did really enjoy and find interest in parts of this book.

My recommendation? Pick it up if you're a true crime junkie and/or have an interest in 1960's Cape Cod. But know what you're getting into, and flip to the back and read the author's note first!
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Helltown strikes an interesting balance between nonfiction and a fictionalized account of actual events, presenting a unique perspective of Cape Cod in the late 1960's; two authors competing for fame and acheivement as the serial killer Tony Costa terrorized the area. Rich with detail and heavily researched, there's a strong focus on the lives of his victims and those living along side them, larger cultural themes explored and a full accounting of Costa's crimes. Trigger warning: this book contains very specific descriptions of violent and bloody murders. 

While the inclusion of storylines regarding Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer are well researched and footnoted, I felt the effect overall was disjointed. I failed to find the connections the author seemed to be reaching for when including these writers stories, heavy with narrative supposition. There's quite a few recreated conversations, specific feelings the characters espouse along with their state of mind that I didn't enjoy, which is not to say other readers may not appreciate this approach. To me it detracts, over fictionalizing real people during real historical events, but I can see how it brings a lot of color, vibrancy and feeling compared to strict nonfiction. 

Not for me, but I appreciate NetGalley and Sourcebooks allowing me the opportunity to read an advance copy.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review. 

This story is definitely creepy!! Tony Costa makes the Manson Murders seem like rainbows and butterflies. 

This book is graphic! There are details of how the bodies were gutted, dismembered, and skinned. The killer carried around a book about taxidermy, and it’s something he studied in great detail. There are scenes that describe the killers acts of necrophilia. This is a horrid series of murders!! 

The creepiest part of this book is that you’re in the killers head for some of the time. I thought this was the fictional part of the story, but I discovered the author read Costa’s unpublished memoir to obtain these thoughts and details for this book. 

Disturbingly enough, those were the parts of this true crime story that I was “enjoying.” However, there is a HUGE focus on two rival reporters throughout the book. At 47% I decided to DNF as this seems to have become the focus of the story and it is putting me in a slump. I tried skimming to parts that pulled me back in, but I’ve hit a point where it’s just not flowing in a way that intrigues me. The story itself is intriguing, but the writing isn’t keeping me entranced. 

I think any true crime fans should definitely try this one. Maybe it’s just my mindset that isn’t able to focus on the writing style where others could enjoy the details I do not.
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I was really excited when I saw this book on NetGalley, as I had already heard about it, and I'm a sucker for true crime. While I did enjoy the book, I wasn't as blown away as I expected. While Sherman's writing was very engaging, I felt it was too...fictionalized. It felt more like a mystery thriller than a true crime book, which made me question the validity of Sherman's work, which I hate doing, especially since it is evident that Sherman did a lot of research. The author also went off on some tangents that I felt were unnecessary to the book, and I wonder if Sherman would have been better off writing a novelization of the events rather than trying for a true crime book.
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This was not what I expected but in a good way. Then again, the whole thing is something in and of itself. A gripping read that I’m trying to wrap my head around. You need to grab this one because I can’t find the words to review this one.
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This book was very intriguing from the start.  The characters were around the same age I was at the time this story took place.  I was so into the Manson Family murders while they were in the news, never knowing about what was going on in Cape Cod.  The author seemed to get many details I was surprised to read.  The footnotes were very helpful.  True crime buffs will be into this one.
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Thank you to NetGalley, Sourcebooks, and the author for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest feedback!

I was so excited to read "Helltown: The Untold Story of Serial Murder on Cape Cod" by Casey Sherman because I am a total crime buff, and I was shocked that I had never heard of Tony Costa before! Helltown tells the story of an unhinged and mentally ill serial killer (before that term was even a thing in the crime world!) in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

The content is obviously very heavy and gruesome detailing Costa's victims and perversions, but the book was well-written and you could tell that a ton of research was put into getting the story right. 

The only thing that threw me off (and took my 4-star rating down to 3) were the chapters about Vonnegut and Mailer. I understand why the author included them to set the tone of what was going on at that time in history, but I'm not sure if they were completely necessary. The chapters dedicated to the two writers threw off the fast pace of the main story and were really difficult to get through. I would still recommend this book to any true-crime lover because Casey Sherman did deliver a thought-provoking story about substance abuse, early childhood trauma, violence against women, and mental illness.

All in all, the story of Tony Costa is one that I will not be forgetting anytime soon, and I enjoyed reading this book and learning something new. Thank you again to NetGalley, Sourcebooks, and the author for sharing this one with me!
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I read this books in spurts, over a long period of time (uncommon for me) because the writing was just not very accessible. It took me so long to read I had to buy the book after I lost access to the eARC (Thank you as always NetGalley and you Sourcebooks for the eARC). The writing, which I must say first and foremost is the tool that conveys your ideas and opinions. If it is lacking, it is hard to even think about what the story is trying to tell you. This is that case in which I know for a fact that their are facts and information intertwined with opinion and assumption to make a think piece of a true crime story. Did I enjoy it? No. 

But I feel as if there is an audiences, some hardcore true crime lovers that can wade through this and not a reader who likes to read but isn’t particularly into true crime; in that instance you will be sorely disappointed.
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This book was not exactly what I expected, so I did not finish the book. I think some true crime lovers would enjoy this book, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The writing style and the various story lines/points of view ended up being not my cup of tea. It also seemed to blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction, which didn’t sit right with me either. Thank you to Net Galley for giving me an advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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Thank you Sourcebooks for the gifted digital copy.

I love true crime, but I just couldn't get into this one. The writing style was hard to follow in my opinion. There is a combination of facts with some assumptions that I did not love. Overall, I just would not recommend this book.
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Wasn’t quite the exciting read I was expecting. Sadly it didn’t live up to the description. It was poor to read. Was to slow for me.
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Wow. I don’t know where to begin with this one. 
I was able to read it in two days. Probably could have done it in one but I have kids lol 
It was enrapturing, spellbinding, and it let you fall into the story entirely. 
I loved the authors writing. Some true crime novels can be a bit bland but I found the author really was able to tell the story in a way that made it sound like you weren’t reading true crime.
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Thank you NetGalley, Sourcebooks, and Casey Sherman for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this one, and thought it was a bit boring and too graphic. I was excited to read this one because I had previously never heard of Tony Costa, but this book includes a lot of unnecessary information. The writing was good, but this one just wasn’t for me.
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While the story itself was more or less interesting and I learned a lot about Tony Costa, a brutal serial killer active on Cape Cod in the 1960s, I do not think that this book/its author was doing a responsible job in the name of true crime. There were too many details about the victims, what they were doing, how they were talking, what they thought, etc that the author could not have known. To add them into a book and call it fact and true crime is, in my deep opinion, irresponsible. I guess they were, in a sense, recreations, but they bothered me greatly and nearly made me not want to finish this book. Additionally, the author got caught up many times in talking about two active authors during that time, Vonnegut and Mailer. I thought all the attention to these two dragged the story a bit.
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Uh yeah. WOW. 
I have read quite a few true crime books in my 50+ years of reading. I have read books about murder, death and dying, autopsies and body farms. NONE [and this is saying something] of them have made me as queasy and uncomfortable as this book did. I spent most of the book being completely grossed out, which was something I was really unprepared for. The descriptions of the crimes [while the killer was performing them and then again during the trial] is brutal and graphic and unflinching and well, you need to have balls of steel to deal with it without being grossed out. 

The story itself is crazy - the twists and turns that the case takes and the roller-coaster ride the cops have to try and find both the bodies and the truth is gripping. The fact that at least three bodies were never talked about during the trial is infuriating. WHERE is the justice for those dead girls and their families? I guess it is in where the killer ends up at the finish of the book, but I think that is a poor substitute for their families. 

There are parts of this book that absolutely DO NOT WORK. WHY the author felt the need to include Normal Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut into this story is beyond me, nor was the story of Edward Kennedy and Chappaquiddick beneficial [this story was used to show how stupid the DA was, but it just muddled the waters even more - it is mentioned and then *POOF* nothing more and it was an unneeded distraction from the story that completely interrupts the flow]. The addition of the two men completely interrupts the flow of the story and I found myself wondering over and over just what they contributed to it. Even more confusing was the brief introduction and mention of Charles Manson and the Tate Murder. I am STILL trying to figure out why that was in the book. 

All of that is why this book is only 3 stars [and really, should only be 2 stars, but the story, minus the gore, is very compelling and it just is not a 2 star read] and to be fair I cannot really recommend this to everyone. You have to have a really strong stomach and an ability to sort through all the nonsense to get to the real crux of the story - if you have that and a serious tenacity to weed out the meh, then this is the read for you. If not, I suggest you stay away, far, far, away. 

I was granted an audiobook ARC of this book. Sometimes, authors should not narrate their own books and that is the case here. The author's staccato way of speaking, the way he often rushes sentences and then has longish pauses that randomly crop of, this makes for a choppy listen. 
Is is the worse narrator I have ever listened to? No. Not even remotely. Was it an enjoyable listening experience? Also no [and not just because of the subject matter]. I will say I listened to the whole thing so that is something. ;-) 

Thank you to NetGalley, Casey Sherman, RB Media/Recorded Books, and SOURCEBOOKS [nonfiction] for providing these ARCS in exchange for an honest review.
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