Review: Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman

Description (from cover): “Before Charles Manson, there was Tony Costa–the serial killer of Cape Cod.

1969: The hippie scene is vibrant in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Long-haired teenagers roam the streets, strumming guitars and preaching about peace and love…and Tony Costa is at the center of it all. To a certain group of smitten young women, he is known as Sire–the leader of their counter-culture movement, the charming man who speaks eloquently and hands out hallucinogenic drugs like candy. But beneath his benign persona lies a twisted and uncontrollable rage that threatens to break loose at any moment. Tony Costa is the most dangerous man on Cape Cod, and no one who crosses his path is safe.

When young women begin to disappear, Costa’s natural charisma and good looks initially protect him from suspicion. But as the bodies are discovered, the police close in on him as the key suspect. Meanwhile, local writers Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer are locked in a desperate race to secure their legacies as great literary icons–and they both set their sights on Tony Costa and the drug-soaked hippie culture that he embodies as their next promising subject, launching independent investigations that stoke the competitive fires between two of the greatest American writers.

Immersive, unflinching, and shocking, Helltown is a landmark true crime narrative that transports us back to the turbulent late 1960s, reveals the secrets of a notorious serial killer, and unspools the threads connecting Costa, Vonnegut, and Mailer in the seaside city that played host to horrors unlike any ever seen before. New York Times bestselling author Casey Sherman has crafted a stunner.”

My Thoughts:

The 1960s and 1970s were some of the most prolific decades in American history for serial killers. Serial killers seemed to roam the great American landscape throughout these decades in a more prominent way that we don’t really see in future decades. While there are still serial killers these days, the 1960s and 1970s really shaped how investigators profile and hunt these vicious killers. A lot of the methods that were introduced during this time period are still in use today. Some of the famous serial killers from this time period include Charles Manson, the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, and the Boston Strangler just to name a few. While you don’t hear much about Tony Costa, this book is his story. In 1969, Tony Costa is living in Provincetown in Cape Cod. He is a hippie, he is a drug user and dealer, he seems to be charming and has amassed a following of teenagers. These followers call him the Sire and he is their leader. While not essentially a cult in the true sense of the word, his followers believe in him and support him in everything he does.

This book tells the story from Tony’s point of view and also from the investigators as well. While this is a “true crime” novel, there is some fiction as the author provides commentary from Tony himself and what he was thinking as he viciously murdered four women. This book takes the reader briefly through Tony’s childhood and leads the reader up to the moments before the crimes, during the murders, through the investigations, and ultimately to Tony’s trial. While some of the fictional narrative of Tony seems a little overdone, the rest of the book and how everything weaves together was very well done. True crime is a hard genre as the author has to tell the story in a way to entice the reader, but stay true to the known facts. Sherman has nailed this and this book is good read if you are looking for something that is not overly fictionalized but well versed in the facts of the cases.

While in some parts of this book, I found the story dragged a little, I was fascinated to learn more about a serial killer that I knew nothing about. Serial killers, the investigations and profiling of them, and the mechanics that cause and encourage them to kill has long been an intrigue of mine. I have always wanted to learn more about why serial killers kill, why they choose the victims they ultimately murder, and what causes them to commit these atrocious crimes. While the side stories of Vonnegut and Mailer seemed a little excessive, this book was a great read. Sherman has several other true crime novels out there that might be worth checking out as well if you are into true crime like I am.

Overall Rating: 4 stars

Author: Casey Sherman

Series: N/A

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Pages: 468

Genre: Nonfiction/True Crime

Get It: Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.

Review: The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict

Description (from cover): “The annual Christmas Game is afoot at Endgame House, the Armitages’ grand family home. This year’s prize is one to die for–deeds to the house itself–but Lily Armitage has no intention of returning. She hasn’t been back to Endgame since her mother died, twenty-one years ago, and she has no intention of claiming the house that haunts her dreams.

Until that is, she receives a letter from her aunt promising that the game’s riddles will give her the keys not only to Endgame, but to its darkest secrets, including the identity of her mother’s murderer.

Now Lily must compete with her estranged cousins for the twelve days of Christmas. The snow is thick, the phone lines are down, and no one is getting in or out. Lily will have to keep her wits about her, because not everyone is playing fair, and there’s no telling how many will die before the winner is declared.

Including additional scavenger hunts for the reader, this clever murder mystery is the perfect gift for fans of classic mysteries, festive Christmas books, and armchair detective work.”

My Thoughts:

A locked house mystery set in England is a long standing favorite of mystery lovers everywhere. This book brings that to the table and includes some games for the reader to play along with while they read. Which I thought was an interesting twist on the locked house mystery genre. While I didn’t play the games along with reading the book, I could see how these games would appeal to a mystery lover. This book takes place at Endgame House, a glorious British house in Yorkshire, England. When Lily’s aunt dies, she requests that all of the family’s children (now adults) return to the house to play one last Christmas game to determine who will win the deed to the house. While there is competition in the air, no one can trust anybody else and when the guests begin dying off one by one, everyone is a suspect and there is a killer on the loose while everyone is trapped inside the house.

This book started off a little slow for me; however, when it picked up, it was near to impossible to stop reading. I really enjoyed the characters and their back stories and the author does a good job of weaving everything together to make this a great mystery novel. Lily’s aunt has asked to her to come to the house to win a chance to own the house, however, she also wants her to solve the case of Lily’s mother’s mysterious death twenty-one years ago. Was it suicide as Lily has believed for all this time, or was she murdered? Lily has dual purposes in the game, and while she doesn’t care who wins, she is determined to resolve her mother’s death so she can move on with her life.

I found this book to be a good quick mystery read that kept my attention until the very last page. I really enjoyed Lily’s character and it was hard not to root for her throughout the book. With multiple characters who all have motive and opportunity, the reader is hard pressed to determine who the murderer is until the conclusion at the end. If you love the locked room mystery mystery genre, this book has a nice little twist on the genre sure to delight mystery readers everywhere. A fantastic read from Benedict, who is an author I will be keeping my eyes on in the future.

Overall Rating: 4 stars

Author: Alexandra Benedict

Series: N/A

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Pages: 322

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Get It: Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.

Review: Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare

Description (from cover): “London, 1936. Lena Aldridge wonders if life has passed her by. The dazzling theatre career she hoped for hasn’t worked out. Instead, she’s stuck singing in a sticky-floored basement club in Soho, and her married lover has just left her. But Lena has always had a complicated life, one shrouded in mystery as a mixed-race girl passing for white in a city unforgiving of her true racial heritage.

She’s feeling utterly hopeless until a stranger offers her the chance of a lifetime: a starring role on Broadway and a first-class ticket on the Queen Mary bound for New York. After a murder at the club, the timing couldn’t be better, and Lena jumps at the chance to escape England. But death follows her onboard when an obscenely wealthy family draws her into their fold just as one among them is killed in a chillingly familiar way. As Lena navigates the Abernathy’s increasingly bizarre family dynamic, she realizes her greatest performance won’t be for an audience, but for her life.”

My Thoughts:

Lena Aldridge is a mixed-race Jazz club singer in Soho, London in the 1930’s. She wants to be an actress and has auditioned for many roles, but to her dismay, she can only find employment in the seedy Canary Club. Her best friend Maggie is married to the club’s owner and when Maggie informs Lena that her husband is cheating on her and has filed for divorce, Lena tries to restrain her friend from doing anything she will regret. Maggie, having a mind of her own, will brook no challenge and sets out to destroy her husband and Lena finds herself right in the middle of a nasty dispute between the two. Lena is torn between wanting to be there for her friend, but she also needs her job. When Maggie’s husband dies at the club under mysterious circumstances, Lena decides to take up a stranger’s offer of a role on Broadway and a first-class ticket to New York. She sets sail on the Queen Mary hoping for some peace and quiet before she starts her new life in New York.

Of course, that is not meant to be. On the first evening of the voyage, Lena finds herself sitting at dinner with the wealthy Abernathy family and soon becomes involved in their family drama. When the patriarch of the family is murdered in a way similar to Maggie’s husband, Lena becomes very concerned that she will be blamed for both murders. She is determined to solve the murder before she is carted back to England to face the hangman’s noose. Using her plucky personality and keeping her wits about her, she is determined to clear her name so she can have the dream life she always wanted in New York.

I really enjoyed this book. Lena’s character is a little more forceful than others in this time period, and it really goes a long way to endearing the reader to her. She doesn’t take anything from anyone and she is determined to make sure that everyone knows that even though she is a mixed woman in a white man’s world, she will not be kept down. I really thought that this mystery was well-developed and you couldn’t help but root for Lena and want everything to work out for the best. This series has a lot of potential and I can see how it sets itself apart from others in this genre to focus the reader on characters who don’t have the social status and racial equality and who are often overlooked as main characters in historical mysteries. I thought that this book was phenomenal and I cannot wait to read more in the series in the future.

Overall Rating: 5 stars

Author: Louise Hare

Series: Canary Club Mystery #1

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date: July 5, 2022

Pages: 368

Genre: Historical Mystery

Get It: Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.

Review: Murder on Teal’s Pond by David Bushman & Mark T. Givens

Description (from cover): “A brilliantly researched reinvestigation into the nearly forgotten century-old murder that inspired one of the most seductive mysteries in the history of television and film.

In 1908, Hazel Drew was found floating in a pond in Sand Lake, New York, beaten to death. The unsolved murder inspired rumors, speculation, ghost stories, and, almost a century later, the phenomenon of Twin Peaks. Who killed Hazel Drew? Like Laura Palmer, she was a paradox of personalities–a young, beautiful puzzle with secrets. Perhaps the even trickier question is, Who was Hazel Drew?

Seeking escape from her poor country roots, Hazel found work as a domestic servant in the notoriously corrupt metropolis of Troy, New York. Fate derailed her plans for reinvention. But the investigation that followed her brutal murder was fraught with red herrings, wild-goose chases, and unreliable witnesses. Did officials really follow the leads? Or did they bury them to protect the guilty?

The likely answer is revealed in an absorbing true mystery that’s ingeniously reconstructed and every bit as haunting as the cultural obsession it inspired.”

My Thoughts:

I am going to preface this review with stating that I know nothing about Twin Peaks and I have never watched the television series. I certainly have heard of Twin Peaks, but didn’t really have any substantial knowledge going into reading this book. I was selected to read an early advanced copy of this book through NetGalley and what really drew me into selecting this book was the fact that it was true crime and based on a real murder mystery. Little did I know that the murder featured in this book was the backstory used in Twin Peaks.

Hazel Drew was in her early twenties when her body was found floating in Teal’s Pond located in Sand Lake, New York in 1908. She was working as a domestic servant for a middle-class family in Troy, New York when she abruptly quit her job. None of her family and friends knew why she quit her job or where she went after doing so. In the next few days, Hazel would travel, see some friends, and ultimately be found dead floating in Teal’s Pond by campers. No one had any clue as to how she ended up dead and who murdered her. Her family and friends were investigated by the police and while there were some promising developments at the time, the case still remains unsolved today.

This is a non-fiction read but flows and reads as fiction. I thought the writing was very well done and engaging and it kept my attention throughout. There were some parts that were repetitive, but nothing that took away from the telling of this story. The authors go further and make their own determinations as to what happened and who killed Hazel Drew. Of course, we really don’t know the real story of what happened to Hazel Drew, but the authors provide a good scenario for what could have happened to her on that July evening in 1908. This was a fun and intriguing true crime novel that I am glad that I have the privilege to read and review.

Overall Rating: 4.5 stars

Authors: David Bushman & Mark T. Givens

Series: N/A

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication Date: January 1, 2022

Pages: 335

Genre: Nonfiction

Get It: Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All thoughts and opinions are solely mine.