By Jeffery Deaver
Jeffery Deaver is the bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including a popular series featuring quadriplegic forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme. Deaver, a former journalist, folk singer and lawyer, has had his books sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages. His latest thriller, ‘The Never Game’, the first in a series featuring investigator Colter Shaw, has just been published.
The epicentre of Chapel Hill is the University of North Carolina, and the epicentre of that sprawling campus is Coker Arboretum. As someone who’s lived in downtown Chicago and Manhattan, I’m the first to admit that Chapel Hill is hardly a churning and chaotic town. Nonetheless, during school term, 30,000 students swell the ranks of the population and the word “bustling” applies quite nicely.
A few steps off Franklin Street — the main thoroughfare on campus — Coker Arboretum transports you into a serene world of nature, just right for contemplating the environment, reflecting on your latest exam performance or, in my case, conjuring up my next thriller plot.
The Arboretum was developed in 1903 by Dr William Chambers Coker, who was the university’s first professor of botany. His affection for Asian horticulture is reflected in the many plantings found along the labyrinthine pathways. Can I cheat and claim favourite views? The 300ft vine-filled arbour, a stream and small, elegant waterfall and a green dominated by massive trees.
Where to live — Cedar Hills
My house is in the Cedar Hills neighbourhood of Chapel Hill, the northern part of the town. It’s a lovely, forested community of homes that are 40 to 50 years old, set on two or so acres of land. On my daily walks my aching legs can attest to the “Hill”; as for cedars, I suspect some may be lurking, but my property is populated mostly with pine, oak and camellia.
The four-bedroom colonial-style house is five minutes from superb coffee, 10 from a great curry and 15 from a highway that can whisk me north to Washington DC, where I have a second home.
Where to eat dinner
As a college town, Chapel Hill boasts a comprehensive spectrum of dining opportunities, from drive-through-only biscuit shacks to one of the best Italian restaurants in North Carolina, Il Palio in the Siena Hotel, where I have enjoyed much pasta and many bottles of Brunello, Barbaresco and Barolo.
However, my favourite dinner haunt is Crook’s Corner. Named not for a masked bandit but for the late owner of the building that houses the establishment, the restaurant has been called “sacred ground for Southern foodies” by The New York Times.
With casual decor echoing 1950s rural America, Crook’s Corner serves up classics like shrimp and grits, Hoppin’ John (a traditional southern rice and beans dish), fried oysters with peanuts and ham, chopped pork barbecue, collard greens and black pepper cornbread. Oh, and for dessert? Banana pudding. The best in the world. Full stop.
Where to have coffee
So many students, so many opportunities for caffeine . . . But my favourite is Joe Van Gogh, a mini chain with nine cafés in the central North Carolina area. My branch, as I mentioned, is five minutes from my house and is a comfortable, friendly place, offering superb coffee and teas.
I also hang out at the place because the Joe Van Gogh organisation champions sustainability, fair wages and inclusiveness — here and where the coffee beans and tea leaves are grown. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the bakery goods are top-notch (no hurt, that is, except to my waistline).
Where to relax
No question: Hillsborough, North Carolina, 10 miles north of Chapel Hill. This small, picturesque town, on the Eno river, saw revolutionary war action. It was near here at Bennett Place where Confederate general Joseph E Johnston surrendered nearly 90,000 troops to Union general William T Sherman, effectively ending the civil war.
None of which, of course, is the relaxing part. That’s the many restaurants, art galleries and antique stores in Hillsborough. The town is also the home to music and food festivals, held on and around the courthouse grounds.
Where to see live music
For rock, folk, alternative and everything in between, the best venue is Cat’s Cradle, which has been the premier performance space for such genres since the 1980s. You can see great local groups, as well as national ones.
Nirvana, Public Enemy, John Mayer, Joan Baez, and Iggy Pop have played Cat’s Cradle (which is, coincidentally, within walking distance of Crook’s Corner). Point of interest: James Taylor (and his four musical siblings) hail from Chapel Hill.
Where to be outside
Duke University is the other institution of higher learning in the immediate area. When it comes to athletics, there is a bit of rivalry, to put it mildly, between the University of North Carolina in my town of Chapel Hill, and Duke in nearby Durham. But we tolerate the Dukies and hope that some day their teams can learn from our lead (I will get mail on that comment, I assure you).
Still, sports aside, Duke has done an unparalleled job of developing and maintaining the 7,000-acre Duke Forest. Formerly cotton fields, the expanse has been managed for teaching and research by the university since 1931. I often walk my dogs there; it’s beautiful, secluded and — unlike the exhaustingly hilly terrain where I live — flat! Thank God.
Photographs: Justin Cook; Dreamstime; Lisa Gotwals; Picassa; Randy Bock