Saunders: Local color makes for good reading

September 16, 2013 

If you, as I did, went to see the movie “Iron Man III” solely to see if you could spot some local color, you were likely disappointed.

Even though parts of the movie were allegedly shot in Cary, I recognized nothing local.

That is not the case with the latest books by two local authors, one of whose work I’ve long known of and another whose book just came across my desk. Larry Rochelle’s most recent book is called “Back to the Rat.” Not only is its title a reference to the well-known Chapel Hill restaurant and bar, the Rathskeller, but on the cover it’s listed as “a Chapel Hill Thriller.”

The other book in which Triangle businesses and sites are prominent is by first-time author LaRhonda Simmons.

I asked her how she would describe her book, “Just a Matter of Time.”

Simmons replied: “I call it adult fiction with a little erotica added to it.”

That’s one way to describe it, although it could also be said the book has a lot of erotica added to it. That’s why Simmons said her book is written for people anywhere from ages 25 to 55.

“That was my target. But from what I can tell, people from a lot of different age groups are reading it,” she said.

Yep, and I’ll bet every one of them blushed while doing so.

Just as intriguing as the erotica, though, are the sites and scenes of places you’ve probably been to. Sure, the trysts and conversations occurring in chain eateries such as P.F. Chang’s, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday could be set in any midsized city, but when she places them at or near The Streets at Southpoint or Northgate malls, you know she’s talking about Durham.

The same goes for the book’s mentions of the Hope Valley and Coaldale Farms communities.

Simmons, 40, of Shallotte, is manager of a ladies’ clothing store in Durham.

“I used a lot of the restaurants and communities to make it seem more realistic to people who live in the area,” she said. “People who’ve read it say it makes it seem more interesting.”

This is Simmons’ first book; Rochelle has written 24.

“Thirteen thrillers, nine poetry books and two nonfiction. I’m a writing fool,” he said with a laugh.

The last four of Rochelle’s thrillers have been set in the Triangle, a fact easily gleaned from the titles: “Occupy Fearrington,” “Murder on 15/501” and “Back to the Rat,” about the late, lamented Rathskeller restaurant.

In his latest book, Rochelle frequently mentions Fearrington Village, the community in which he lives, and he has added a fictionalized neighboring community called Darlington Village, which is owned by the mob. He also fictionalizes real people, like a 92-year-old real-life friend of his, Dick. In the book, Rochelle writes that Dick falls down some stairs at a local bookstore. But in real life, Dick “is in Mexico doing some snorkeling as we speak,” he said.

When asked if Dick minded that he fell in the book, Rochelle replied, “He loved it.”

And as I asked if the Triangle is conducive to drama, Rochelle says: “It has worked for me.

“I go to Durham Bulls park a lot. It’s an integral part of the story.”

Simmons agrees. “When I had my book signing a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “one of the ladies said she came because when she saw the flier for it, she saw that the book was based in Durham. That triggered her interest, and she said she wanted to meet me and find out what it was about.”

Palmer Morel, the flawed hero of “Back to the Rat” is, Rochelle said, “a tennis pro who just gets involved in a lot of stuff.”

Like with the mob – and women. I assured Rochelle, and assure you, that I didn’t write about his book simply because Morel’s sidekick is a handsome, debonair newspaper reporter named Barry Cinders.

OK, so I discovered only after I’d already begun reading the book that Cinders is described as neither handsome nor debonair. But hey, a man can dream, can’t he?

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bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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