book review

Review: “Dead by Sunset” by Ann Rule

Rule, Ann. Dead by Sunset 
Simon & Schuster, 1995
Hardcover, 429 pages
ISBN 0-684-80205-8

In this true-crime book Ann Rule tells the story of Cheryl Keeton, who was bludgeoned to death and left in her Toyota van on the highway so that an accident would cover her murder, in September, 1986, in Portland, Oregon. Rule also tells the story of Keeton’s husband, Bradley Morris Cunningham, who wasn’t convicted of the murder until December, 1994.

This book illustrates how a nonfiction writer can use many of the same techniques novelists use to create a riveting, suspenseful story. Rule opens the book with the discovery of Cheryl Keeton’s bloody body on the highway. Only after thus capturing the reader’s interest does she proceed to fill in the background of Cheryl Keeton, Brad Cunningham, and their relationship.

I do have one minor complaint: Rule occasionally indulges a passion for purple prose:

After an exhaustive investigation, it began to look as if the person who had caused her [Cheryl Keeton’s] death was going to walk away and any footprints left behind were going to grow fainter and fainter until there was no trail at all. 

(p. 241)

In the spring of 1990 the same rhododendrons bloomed in Portland, the same azaleas, the same sweet daphne—everything in nature was the same as it had been in the spring of 1986. And yet everything had changed and Sara’s world had reversed itself from a place filled with wondrous love to a dark abyss where loss and fear walked with her constantly.

(p. 272)

But this is a nearly insignificant flaw in the otherwise masterful telling of this tragic story. We listened to an unabridged audio version of this book on a 4,200-mile car trip. Learning how Brad Cunningham was finally brought to justice eight years after murdering his wife helped the miles fly by.

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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