I don’t typically read true crime books. In fact, I think I was a young teen the last time I read one. I don’t remember anything about it except that it had to do with a gruesome murder in the woods and that it was wildly inappropriate for my age (which was at least 90% of the appeal!).
The truth is, when I first started listening to Dead by Sunset, I didn’t realize it was a true story and was initially put off by the sheer amount of detail that Ms. Rule put into the first chapter describing the crime scene.
But as I trudged forward, I realized that this was the book version of what I loved about shows like 60 minutes, 20/20, Dateline NBC, Cold Case Files, 48 Hours, and Crime Watch Daily.
This is the story of Cheryl Keeton, a young mother and lawyer, found bludgeoned to death on an Oregon highway. This is also the story of Bradly Cunningham, estranged husband of Cheryl, and his long history of abusive relationships, beginning in his childhood and ending in the mid 1990s with his fifth wife.
Ann Rule’s meticulous attention to detail made me feel like I was there with the investigators, experiencing the entire ordeal as well as being able to travel back in time to Brad’s stark childhood, scary previous marriages, and his rocky relationships with other women and his children. It’s easy to see how someone with Brad’s charisma and good looks could seemingly waltz through life. Easy to see, but horrifying.
Unlike most true crime stories, this ending was gratifying (if a little anticlimactic). I have to admit, I almost lost hope, especially as months, years, and almost a decade creeped by in the pages of the book. But as the old adage says, “Good things come to those who wait.”
I can see why Ms. Rule is a New York Times best selling author. I think I will add some of her other titles to my to-read list! If you’re a fan of true crime, I highly recommend Dead by Sunset.
*** SPOILERS FROM HERE ON***
Once I figured out Dead by Sunset was a true story, I made myself not google anything related to the case so that the process and the ending would not be ruined. I surprised myself by being able to stick to this and was rewarded.
Once done, I allowed myself free reign on The Google. I was saddened to find out that some of the people involved in getting justice for Cheryl’s murder did not have happy endings… and then I found this on Amazon:
Ann Rule in 1995 published Dead by Sunset. She claimed it was a true story that described my life, and relationships. Literally nothing in DBS was true. When there was a shred of truth, she then exaggerated it to an incredulous level. For years I struggled with how to deal with this. My poverty precluded any meaningful litigation. […]
[…] Ann Rule Deconstructed will offend some readers. It will make others feel uncomfortable. In telling the whole truth the entire story was necessary. The reader must know and understand how complex my relationships were with the women in my life.
I have no interest in reading Brad Cunningham’s rebuttal; I feel like it would be like paying O.J. Simpson to read about how he didn’t kill his wife, Nicole. I have mixed feelings about posting a link to Cunningham’s “book” and was pleased to see that it has received very low reviews. His description (partially quoted from Amazon above) and some of the reviews indicate that his version is, to quote another reviewer: