Portland plays a part in latest thriller from long-quiet local author

There is a gap of 16 years between Portland author Mark Schorr's ninth and 10th published novels.

Mystery lovers want to know - was it a tragic addiction that sapped his ability to write? Perhaps a devastating accident or, even better, a decade in the pokey?

Schorr laughs at such speculation, noting that the actual explanation is somewhat anticlimactic.

'Basically I was raising a family and focusing on my career as a psychotherapist and counselor,' he says. (Schorr and his wife have a 17-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.) 'Plus I wrote a manuscript that didn't sell.'

'Borderline,' his latest thriller, did sell and was published earlier this month. It's the story of a Portland therapist, Brian Hanson, who begins an investigation into the death of one of his clients.

The police call it a suicide, but Hanson doubts that Tammy LaFleur, who dreamed of being an actress, would have shot herself in the face.

As he uncovers a series of mysterious deaths, his wife is drawn into a passionate and potentially dangerous affair with the city's deputy mayor.

Schorr admits that in the 1990s he became frustrated by the writing life and was unsure what direction to take.

'My early books were what I'd call lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek stories about a private eye,' he says. (He neglects to mention that his first book, 'Red Diamond, Private Eye,' was nominated in 1983 for an Edgar in the Best First Novel category.) With 'An Eye for an Eye,' published in 1989, he got a taste for police thrillers.

Apparently it's a taste that St. Martin's shares with the veteran author. The publisher has commissioned another thriller Schorr hopes will be published in 2007 - 'I've written over 300 pages, and it's due Jan. 1,' he says.

The new book also will feature Brian Hanson, FBI agent Louise Parker and the Portland landmarks and neighborhoods that figure so prominently in 'Borderline.'

In the meantime, Schorr continues to work as the director of staff development and media relations for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare - a facility very similar to the one where his new protagonist spends his working hours.

Also reading in Portland

Jess Walter's last novel, 'Citizen Vince,' garnered the 2006 Edgar for Best Novel. Now the Spokane, Wash., author is back with 'The Zero,' the story of a New York City cop struggling with bizarre memory gaps in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. Walter will read at 7 tonight at Powell's in Beaverton (8725 S.W. Cascade Ave., 503-228-4651).

Two Northwest authors will share the podium when Seattle's Garth Stein and Portland's Cheryl Strayed present a joint reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Twenty-third Avenue Books (1015 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-224-5097).

Stein is the author of the novel 'How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets,' a story of one man's struggle with epilepsy and sudden fatherhood. Strayed's debut, 'Torch,' chronicles a family dealing with the death of a beloved wife and mother.

A small town settled deep in the forests of Washington state provides the setting for Thomas Mullen's haunting debut, 'The Last Town on Earth.' The year is 1918, and the people of tiny Commonwealth vote to seal off their town from the outside in hopes of avoiding the flu epidemic. Just how far will the community go to protect itself, and what will be the ramifications?

Mullen will read 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Powell's on Hawthorne (3723 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-228-4651).

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