Helltown by Casey Sherman

Casey Sherman is a juggernaut in New England true crime, but I am not at all a reader of true crime. When Sourcebooks, the publishers of Helltown, asked if they could send me an ARC of his newest book the week it came out, I accepted thinking that I would enjoy this story of a serial killer on Cape Cod. Little did I know that I would be absolutely enthralled with this story that not only examined the lives of the killer, his victims, and the main prosecutor in the case, but also pulled in an amazing portrait of one of my favorite authors who spent a great deal of time on the cape with one of my best friends (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and my friend Dr. Bill Keough were both security guards in P Town) and the equally famous and controversial Norman Mailer. 

The book tells the story of Antone Costa, a young man whose captivating personality overshadowed his drug running and vagrancy to become somewhat of a small-town legend among his friends and compatriots on the cape. His hobbies ended up turning into a vile and terrifying crime spree that I would love to go over but might detract from the sensational and exciting horrors that await you as you dip into the book. That said, alongside this story, we learn about his young, beautiful, kind victims and their relationship with the killer, the District Attorney who threatened to destroy the case with every sensational and fictitious lie he could muster so as to keep his political position in a reelection year, Norman Mailer’s attempts to write about the case in a new book while running for mayor of New York City and living on the cape, and his bitter Cape feud with Kurt Vonnegut and his work on his own Costa stories and books he was working on at the time (and whose daughter had a relationship with the killer at one time and may have avoided the fate of the other women). 

Sherman seems to handle the huge swath of time and characters with the ease of a master conductor, weaving several stories that are only incidentally related into a symphony of violence, intrigue, competition, whispers, action, political fighting, and the larger-than-life personalities of two of the most beloved literary figures of the twentieth century. While the book is a fictionalization of the accounts within, it doesn’t take very long to find news stories, YouTube deep dives, and major network specials that manage to piece together the disparate elements that Sherman can orchestrate so well in an incredibly well-written book. Of course, I went and did some research after reading this – I have spent a lot of time in Truro, Yarmouth, Dennis, and PTown my whole life visiting friends and family on the Cape and I was so surprised that I had never heard of such a sensational and horrifying story. In the hands of Sherman, it was a glimpse into a history that seems too horrible to be true in the sleepy villages I know a lot about, all said. 

This was an incredible book that is required reading for any true crime enthusiast, anyone who loves Vonnegut, anyone who lives in or around the Cape, and anyone who wants to buckle in for a haunting piece about a community on edge in the midst of a killer among them.  

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