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In search of bad guys, novelist finds UNC athletics

Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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If athletic scandals in Chapel Hill have seemed stranger than fiction, it’s only fitting someone finally got around to working them into actual fiction.

Larry Rochelle has lived in the area for almost seven years, but it took a tour of Chapel Hill’s hidden spots from one of his Fearrington Village neighbors followed by the continuing revelations at North Carolina to spawn his latest mystery thriller, “Back to the Rat,” published via Lulu.

Rochelle will be reading from the book, his 13th novel starring tennis-pro protagonist Palmer Morel, at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Rochelle knew he wanted his next Morel novel to involve brain-washing and mind-control techniques, but he needed bad guys. He found them in Chapel Hill, where the real-life scandal at North Carolina served as fodder for the book.

“The academic scandal just resonated with me, perhaps because I’ve taught in college” said Rochelle, a former junior-college professor.

With literary license, Rochelle imagines it going back decades, much bigger and far more nefarious. Events in the book spin out of control, involving the CIA, organized crime and other malefactors on a grand scale.

For Rochelle, it wasn’t a giant leap from what’s going on at North Carolina.

“You look at point shaving, and then you look at what’s happening at UNC,” Rochelle said. “They’re very young, they don’t have much money, and they’re relying on a guy named ‘Fats’ who’s loaning them cars and such.

“My concern with them is, what do they want from the players? Is there a quid pro quo? Maybe you don’t score so much in the next game, or don’t make it 20 points, make it 10. I don’t know when you take that step if you’re a player or a gambler.”

DeCock: @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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