This is quite a read. This book is disturbing, sad and also inspiring in terms of the strength and dignity of Cheryl Pierson, who endured shocking abuse at the hands of her father at their home in Long Island.
In 1986, Cheryl was arrested for hiring a fellow high school student to murder her father. The case made national headlines and, as stated in the book: “The reason my case attracted so much national attention was because of the disturbing moral and social issues it raised…”
The book is told from both Cheryl and her husband Rob Cuccio’s perspectives and co-written with author Morgan St James. The narrative is quite raw, which I liked. As a reader you feel like you are sitting in a room with Cheryl and Rob and them telling you their story. Cheryl met Rob when she was a teen and he vowed to protect her and stick by her no matter what.
The fact Cheryl survived and went on to raise her own cherished family is really a testament to love. Truly. Her husband Rob, whom she met in high school, really does fit the description of “guardian angel”.
This book intersects the personal story of Cheryl and Rob with the overarching subject of sexual abuse and the extreme damage it does to victims. It’s sickening what Cheryl’s father did and it’s hard to believe that people questioned the truthfulness of her story.
Cheryl was desperate to keep her sister safe and traumatised from years of being raped and beaten by her father, the one man meant to protect and love her.
The sexual abuse is simply shocking and does make for very uncomfortable reading, as it should. Cheryl suffered for so many years and many people had suspicions of what was happening:
“During my hearing I discovered more than twenty adults apparently suspected what was happening to me, but nobody did anything to help me!”…”
Cheryl’s mother died of kidney disease when she was a teen, just one year before she was arrested for her father’s murder and Cheryl talks about how much she loved her mum and her vow to protect her little sister. I did find it shocking that clearly the mother knew what was going on and did nothing but I realise there is complicated psychology and issues surrounding abuse victims.
Despite this case being in the national headlines for several years, Cheryl had only done one interview in 30 years. So this book really does represent “her story”. I was chatting to an author friend of mine recently and we were discussing how sometimes, often, there’s needs to be time between a case and a book being written – often there needs to be years so that a greater understanding of what happened.
I think the strength of this book is that it’s Cheryl’s story and she could write from a place of maturity and experience. There’s also the added thread of the story with Rob’s near death experience later in his life that threatened their family unit that was so hard-fought for and cherished.
Another aspect of the book I found intriguing was when Cheryl would mentioned a book written about her just a few years after her court case. This book is clearly something that still upsets Cheryl and she details some of the preconceptions detailed in it by the NY Times reporter who wrote the book. As a crime author myself this gave me real pause about the nature of true crime writing and reporting and the ethical questions that arise when you write about other people’s lives.
I definitely recommend reading Incest, Murder and a Miracle.