Cover Image: Helltown


Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The writing turned me away from this one, unfortunately. I was hoping for something more in the vein of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, but this one felt too fictionalized. I wanted something more informative, but this is written as a suspenseful novel more than a nonfiction outing in true crime. I think I may try it again later with a different mindset (now having a better idea of what kind of book to expect); I think then I'll enjoy it more.
Was this review helpful?
When I saw the blurb for Helltown, the account of a serial killer on Cape Cod in the 1960s, I was curious. I didn’t know anything about Tony Costa, and with the time period I was hoping for a interesting non-fiction read. 

While the book does cover Tony Costa’s murders, it reads much more like a thriller novel than it does true crime…which honestly put me off. I love a good thriller as much as the next nerdy goth, but turning the actual murders of young women into something that felt more fictionalized wasn’t amazing. 

The scope of the story the author tells widens and narrows, bringing in local authors, police and the convicted themself. It tries to bring all these disparate elements together in a good story, but falls short simply because of the breadth they were trying for. 

I feel like there are two warring ideas here, the bold non-fiction account of murders, as well as the thriller that takes these murders and spins something new out of them. I wish we had gotten one or the other, instead of this which falls somewhere in between the two.
Was this review helpful?
True Crime writer Casey Sherman’s latest book, Helltown: The Untold Story of Serial Murder on Cape Cod (Sourcebooks, 2022), is a fascinating and unflinching look at the crimes of Tony Costa and the two great American writers who were inspired by him. 

Tony Costa’s crimes have been given less attention in the true crime genre than other infamous serial murderers, but as Sherman’s book demonstrates, Costa’s crimes are garnering more and more attention from writers in recent years. Following Liza Rodman’s true crime-memoir The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer (co-authored with Jennifer Jordan, 2021), which details Costa’s crimes and Rodman’s experiences with Costa himself as a child, Sherman’s book is a narrative account of Costa’s life, the murders he committed, and the social and political moment surrounding his offenses and eventual capture. Beginning in the late 1960s, during a time of enormous political upheaval due to the Vietnam War, Sherman’s book recounts Costa’s life in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Although Costa at first appears to be simply a recognizable member of the hippie scene in Ptown as a drug dealer and a sometimes-informant for the local police, when women begin to disappear without explanation, Costa begins to look more and more like the odd man out to locals and law enforcement alike. Eventually, when the bodies of four women are discovered in an isolated stretch of woods, Costa becomes the prime suspect in a series of brutal killings, the details of which are almost too gruesome to believe. 

Meanwhile, Sherman’s narrative moves away from Costa and his crimes to recount the literary and social details of the lives of famous American novelists Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Norman Mailer. Rivals who were known to each other in the small world of American letters, Vonnegut and Mailer both became interested in the Costa case as writers and intellectuals of the period. Sherman’s book delves into the literary history surrounding the lives of Mailer, Vonnegut, and their interest in Costa, adding a highly original and interesting twist to this work of narrative true crime.

Sherman chooses to recount the narrative of Costa and the US in the 1960s and 70s using many of the hallmarks of fiction writing. Sherman adapts dialogue, plot, and characters around a very real case, making this text read more like a novel than like a work of nonfiction. This style is very effective, and allows for the multiple threads of the story to interconnect at a pace that makes sense for the whole of the book. While the dialogue at times reads as more stilted than any actual speech might be, Sherman’s writing has the sharp, sparse quality of good and clear narrative. 

Helltown’s narrative structure, however, does not detract from the extensive research involved in writing a text like this one. The text is obviously grounded in the news media, trial transcripts, and autopsy reports from the period, and Sherman leaves no stone unturned in his examination of the Costa case. Sherman pulls no punches in recounting Costa’s brutal crimes, fully unpacking just how tragic and heinous the murders were and underscoring the victims’ family’s immense loss. 

Overall, Helltown is a must-read true crime text for those interested in literary history and serial killer cases from this pivotal period in American history. 

Please add Helltown to your Goodreads shelf.

Don’t forget to follow True Crime Index on Twitter and please visit our Goodreads for updates on what we’re reading! You can find Rachel on her personal @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

About the Writer: 
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
Was this review helpful?
Helltown was brilliantly researched and compiled by Casey Sherman. However at times I felt like there was just too much going on. We had a serial killer, Kurt Vonnegut, social issues in that current time, and other issues being discussed all in the same book. When we were learning about Tony Costa and his psychotic ways I loved the book, being a true crime aficionado and learning about someone I had never heard about. However, it just because a little jumbled throughout and not being able to follow at certain times.
Was this review helpful?
For a fan of True Crime I fell in love with this one from page 1. Knowing that I have yet another serial killer to do research on is super interesting. I used to think I knew about most serial killers but this one was a new one for me. The way Sherman writes this is also very interesting and entertaining. It was an easy read unlike some non fiction books I read! I truly think most true crime lovers will love this book. So go and grab it!
Was this review helpful?
An interesting approach to the true crime genre, Helltown narrates the events of Cape Cod serial killer Tony Costa. The crimes were committed in 1969 and Sherman does a fantastic job of providing the reader with the context and setting of the times. We get the political climate (Vietnam, Kennedys, assassinations), the drug culture, the music, and the ubiquitous hippie scene.  Time and place is conveyed in rich, heavily footnoted detail. Interwoven throughout are the competing narratives of Cape Cod authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut as they're both interested, for reasons of their own, in telling Tony Costa's story. Sherman even makes a call back to Capote's classic In Cold Blood. Helltown is very meta. 

Sherman's approach almost undoes the meticulously researched "true" part of his true crime novel. There are numerous footnotes throughout the chapters, referencing newspaper articles, trial transcripts, the killer's own unpublished work, the biographies of both Mailer and Vonnegut, other novels about the killings. Tons of footnotes. The glaring absence of footnotes in some chapters call way too much attention to the invented side of this book - some chapters and scenes are pretty much 100% fiction, And some of these depictions are wild. 

Those imagined, fictitious parts didn't work, pulling me out of the actual narrative and timeline. There seemed to be fewer references and footnotes as the book progressed. Perhaps Sherman thought they beefed up sections. Some were pretty lurid, on par with the actual crimes. They felt superfluous. In the author's note Sherman states that he was trying something new in this genre  by combining both fact and fiction. This book was strong enough to stand on its own without the made up padding, hence the neutral rating. 

My thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the ARC in exchange for my review.
Was this review helpful?
I had never heard of Antone Costa and his crimes before reading this book. The true crime portion of this book was super interesting, I just wish the author hadn’t taken quite so many liberties. It was hard to tell what was fact and what was fiction. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the Vonnegut/Mailer drama. I think that a lot of it could have been cut out without losing the plot of the book. That being said, the story of Tony Costa was so compelling and disturbing. The parts of the book that focused on Costa and his crimes were great!
Was this review helpful?
This book was so good and kept sucking me in! So well written and great for true crime fans! Thank you for the arc!
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this true crime novel about Cape Cod and the pervasive drug culture of the late 60s. I appreciated that the author was able to put this crime into context for the readers, including details of the literary culture, Chappaquiddick, the Space Race, the Manson murders, all of which were part of the fear and tension surrounding these murders. However, there were lengthy detours into the lives of Vonnegut and Mailer that felt like they held the narrative back. I also didn't love some of the more fictionalized aspects including the hypotheticals about what happened to the Girl of the Dunes, a victim of a similar murder but one that happened after Tony Costa killed himself in prison.
Was this review helpful?
I am not intimidated by long books because it usually means there's a great story within all those pages. This book, however, was just WAY too long. I'd say it was about 200 pages too long. 

I was intrigued with the idea of this book. A serial killer in Cape Cod? Yes! Cape Cod screams safe and peaceful, so the idea of a killer going around and killing young women was a little appealing.

However, there was just so much extra in this book. Extra people, extra events... It was just too much. 

For example, there was quite a lot of detail about the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the Chappaquiddick/Ted Kennedy incident, and the Manson Murders. I understand the reference to these events. It was to let us know about the times and to connect the Cape Cod murders to other significant events in history. But a simple reference would work. I didn't need paragraphs of detail.

Along with the detailed events, there are also quite a few additional people in the book too, such as a couple of local authors, a woman who understands the severity of witchcraft, the DA, and a so called witch as well. It started with the introduction of the two authors and the rivalry they seemed to have with one another. The whole time I read those paragraphs, I kept wondering, "What does this have to do with the bigger picture?" Yes, they all had little connections to the story and the case, but again, a simple reference or two would have been sufficient.

Overall, I give this book three stars. At times, I felt like I was reading a horrible fiction story. They was the thoughts of many of the people were presented made me really think it was more of a work of fiction.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
DNF-ed this book. Beginning was just too slow and too sluggish to capture my attention, as well as the fact that the first few chapters kind of read like a collection of Wikipedia pages. Well-written Wikipedia pages, mind you, but Wikipedia pages nonetheless.
Was this review helpful?
As a fan of true crime, I looked forward to reading this book about a serial killer that I'd never known about. Sherman seems to have done a lot of research for this book and gives detail to both the killer, Tony Costa, and the victims. When I choose to read the "untold story" of a serial killer that is billed as non-fiction I kind of expect the story to be true and mainly about that primary subject, but this is where my problem arose. The book is filled with dialog and narrative that the author admits in the Author Note at the end were moved around or reimagined. There are also entire chapters devoted to the authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, writers from the area of the crime and whom the author mentions influenced his own writing. Unfortunately, these chapters detracted from the story of Costa and his crimes for me. I truly wish that I'd liked this book more, but thank Sourcebooks and NetGalley for the early read.
Was this review helpful?
I really wanted to like Helltown. Murder story that I’d never heard of, but from the first day I sat down I struggled. I just couldn’t get into the story. The flow of it felt off and disjointed. I will admit I finally gave up after the first 100 pages.
Was this review helpful?
Massive True Crime addict and I had never heard of this case! Which I love because that means I get to dive into a new crime and learn everything about it!
Was this review helpful?
An interesting read on a serial murder I wasn't aware of previously. I found the murders and people involved less of a star than the location and the procedures, but it wasn't bad. The addition of fictional elements made it seem a bit like one of those re-enactment TV shows. 

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for the copy to read and review.
Was this review helpful?
Well, this wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I love reading about serial killers, suspense and thriller fiction and nonfiction. Helltown seems to be a cross between them. It reminds me of the way recreations are done on TV, and I did do some web searching to check on some of the facts. It covers more than the murders. It’s about the 1960s, Cape Cod, Provincetown, the drug culture, hippies…

I have been traveling to the Cape for more than twenty years and I love it. You know exactly where you are by your surroundings, a unique and beautiful place. So many familiar places, I couldn’t help but smile as we drove the roads, ate in the restaurants and…

Can definitely see how far we have advanced when it comes to investigating a murder and how many more tools we have at our disposal.

The police, Kudos to them. Once they established a murder had taken place, they worked together tying the knot around Costa’s neck.

Even though there were fictional elements thrown in, I loved the way it was written. Easy to read, flowing smoothly.

I think a lot of people may have trouble with the recreations and suppositions, and that is why I didn’t rate this higher. It is supposed to be true crime, but it was written like a fictional novel. It was more about the times and the Cape than only a serial killer.

I voluntarily reviewed a free copy of Helltown by Casey Sherman.
Was this review helpful?
Helltown is a must read. Although it is a gruesome story, it is fascinating how the mind of a serial killer works. Tony Costa murdered 2 girls in Provincetown Ma , but that is only the beginning. Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut are  also inProvincetown writing their new books and both are fascinated with Tony Costa and leading their own investigations. The author writes in a fluent and intriguing manor as he has in his other true crime stories. It is a book you can’t put down.!
Was this review helpful?
Helltown by Casey Sherman

In Helltown, readers learn about the horrific actions of Tony Costa in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. We also learn about two influential writers of the time who were living in the area and affected by Costa and his needless murders on several woman. The book ties it all up in the end with the trial of Costa and course of his jail sentence and all the numerous outliers who were affected by the murders and the trials in the small town.

While it was interesting read, it was extremely graphic when it came to the actual murders. Obviously this is a true crime novel, so I didn't expect it to shy away from the acts, it just caught me a bit by surprise at times. The inclusion of Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer felt very strange to me. This is the first book that I have read by Sherman, perhaps this is what he always does, but it felt like those moments were just filler on the book instead of crucial to the story. I liked how much research that he had performed to really get the true essence of Costa, and felt like I knew more about him and his motivations by the end of the book, but I just felt like maybe the inclusion of Mailer and Vonnegut were a bit over-sensationalized and unnecessary. Regardless, I did finish the book, albeit it took a while to get through some of the rather muddy information provided. 

I received a review copy from SOURCEBOOKS via NetGalley and I voluntarily provided an honest review. This does not affect the opinion of the book or the content of the review.
Was this review helpful?
I love true-crime, so was super excited to review a copy of this from netgalley to review.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed. Yes, the killings and story were gruesome and unreal to read about, but the story lacked in the way it was told.

A lot of the parts made little sense, like the author didn't actually know anything about what was going on. It felt insanely made up and fictionalized, when I love the deep nitty gritty aspects of a good true crime novel that leave you shivery in your shoes.

Could have been so much better, overall disappointed.
Was this review helpful?
This true crime story takes place in Provincetown, Massachusetts, locally known as Ptown. Tony Costa is an outgoing pleasant young man on the outside, but inner turmoil has turned him into a vicious killer. At the same time as young females are going missing., Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut are competing for writing rights and each follows the movements of Tony Costa.
I do love to read true crime, but I did find this book a slow read, as the author went into great detail of  both Mailer and Vonnegut and this took away from the main storyline, in my opinion.
I do thank the author, publisher and Netgalley for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?