For several years, a diverse group of friends have gathered to share Christmas dinner—academics, artists, physicians, couples and widows. In previous years, dinner talk revolved around toy party favors and small talk about family and health. This year it becomes a spontaneous and sometimes explosive confession of ideas and secrets of lives little known.

FROM THE BOOK: “He’d forgotten how many years they’d gone to Betty’s for Christmas dinner. Not that knowing was all that important. Mostly just curiosity. He’d recently heard someone say on MSNBC—never on Fox News, which he never watched, or he’d read it in the Times—The New York Times, to which he subscribed—that trying to remember something would keep the brain sharp. He did admit, however, that whatever advantage to his brain there might be, the simple act of wondering indicated a faltering interest in dining at Betty’s. Nor would the woman finishing her makeup in the bathroom remember. He wondered if the woman in the bathroom finishing her makeup also had doubts. Probably both had allowed the dinner to slip, without objection, into the category of ‘custom.’ If he gave it any thought, ‘custom’ had come to mean ‘duty’ with only a remote possibility of pleasure ...”


     A reclusive war hero, The Watch Man,  confronts his past and perhaps his most difficult challenge when faced with armed thieves who intend to steal his collection of luxury watches.

     Jim Robbins, wounded while fighting the Germans in North Africa in 1943, sets out to foil the burglary with a pair of small friends and fellow veterans. Their resistance to the thieves, however, puts their lives in danger.

     Along the way, The Watch Man learns new lessons about friendship, loyalty,  personal qualities that matter, truth and the price of a life of isolation.

     FROM THE BOOK: Mac, who is startled to be spoken to so abruptly, turns his head toward Angie and pauses.

     “Who’s asking?”

     “He is,” Angie replies.

     He pulls the left side of his jacket aside and reveals the butt of a .45 tucked into his pants.

     Before Angie can close his jacket, Mac swings his left arm across the man’s throat. The blow sends Angie flying off his stool, grasping his throat, spitting and struggling for air. The bartender pulls a sawed-off .12 gauge from behind the bar and racks it. Mac stands over Angie and grabs the .45 out of his pants, ejects the chambered round, extracts the clip, which he tosses to the bartender, and puts the piece on the bar.

     “I said, who’s asking,” Mac repeats.

There is a place—the Night Owl— in the fictional town of Rolling Hills in California's San Joáquin Valley where local men of a type flock on weekends to see the headliner, an auburn-haired pole dance calling herself 'Poler Bare.'

Most Night Owl customers couldn't imagine the star performer, the object of their unrequited sexual dreams, also worked a day job. Had they known of it, they would not have accepted it as proper for the 'lady' of their fantasies.

There is more they couldn't imagine.

'Poler Bare' dared to lead a third life, one requiring compassion, cunning, and courage—a life fraught with danger, including the possibility of death.

The secret of these separate lives began to unravel when a brash, young smart-ass asked a boorish question. From that point, the story brings readers face to face with one of the most intractable social, economic, and political problems of the 21st century.

     Artists, Thieves & Liars is a story ... within a story ... within a story. At its center is a shadowy Dutch landscape painter who seeks a new start in America after World War II, but he is haunted and his life threatened by the past wherever he turns.

READERS REACT: "I loved it! Stayed up late and then climbed back into bed to finish it, an unheard of event, my family says." — M. Williams


FROM THE BOOK: "Stijn spent an early November afternoon near Ennis, Montana, doing what he loved, his rejuvenated brushes telling a story of the Madison River and the range of the same name whose shoulders shelter the meandering stream. This one would be for Marge, he decided, not some well-heeled stranger.


     "It was a long hike up the hill overlooking Ennis, on the other side of which lay Virginia City. The mountain vista and river that stretched out before him was well worth the effort.

     "A sudden squall came up while he worked, gusting upriver toward him, tumbling his hat across the hardscrabble and onto the Old Virginia City highway. Stijn closed his eyes and felt the wind play with his hair like a masseuse with a thousand adept fingers.

     "A handful of fisherman in small boats struggled in the powerful wind to reel in their lines and find shelter. The roiling black clouds above and whitecaps pushing against the steel-gray river below offered Stijn an extraordinary portrait of raw nature. The swirling gusts caused the long sea-green grasses on the riverbank and fields beyond to undulate in a gentle rhythm as though part of a Hawaiian hula."

A retired teacher seemingly takes leave of his senses following back surgery. He embarks on a cross-country bicycle journey to test his physical and mental fortitude, and, on the lighter side, his tolerance for sweet alcoholic drinks. The adventure, successful or not, might even salvage his failed marriage.


FROM THE BOOK:Do you need anything before I go?”

     “No, I don’t think so. I have my ‘girls’ to help if I need it. Women don’t have to have a man around, you know.”

     “Dammit, Judy, I’ve never said that or acted that way, so let’s not go there. If there’s nothing else, I’ll say goodbye.”

     I waited.

     “Please be careful,” she said, finally.

     I paused a few seconds, contemplating the utility of what I would say next.



     “I’m sorry.”

     “For what?”


     "You're not sorry. Not really ... Just be careful."


      FROM THE BOOK: "F**kers! the handgun man spit, turning red in the face. "Why don't you work for a living? This is our road, and it ain't for Hippies like you! Git you asses back where you came from! Mother F**kers!"


Breaking away from the comfortable insularity of small-town America, Charlie Rich thrusts himself onto dangerous international waters. What he experiences there and his growing awareness of the racial divide at home cause him to reconsider the country he thought he knew and his place in it.


A brilliant white flash burned through the clouds at 0900 GMT, changing to an expanding green ball of irradiance extending into the clear sky above the overcast …


     Great white fingers extruded from its surface, resembling cirrostratus clouds, which rose to 40 degrees above the horizon in sweeping arcs, turning downward toward the poles and disappearing in seconds to be replaced by spectacular concentric cirrus-like rings moving out from the blast at tremendous initial velocity, finally stopping when the outermost ring was 50 degrees overhead. They did not disappear but persisted in a state of frozen stillness …


     All this occurred within 45 seconds. As the greenish light turned to purple and began to fade at the point of burst, a bright red glow began to develop on the horizon at a direction 50 degrees north of east and simultaneously 50 degrees south of east, expanding inward and upward until the whole eastern sky was a dull burning red semicircle 100 degrees north to south and halfway to the zenith, obliterating some of the lesser stars. This condition, interspersed with tremendous white rainbows, persisted no less than seven minutes …

‘Starfish Prime,’ July 9, 1962

© 2016 Stephen Fox

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