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Latham: Novel brings Longview history to life

By Phil Latham
March 16, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Kimberly Fish holds  her new book "The Big Inch. "

Longview's Kimberly Fish has written an exceptionally fun novel in the "The Big Inch: A Novel," and it is made all the more special for the incredible detail about Longview's history she has woven seamlessly into the book.

Writing a novel is a difficult endeavor no matter the genre, but historical fiction ups the ante, and the level of research Fish has done makes her work stand out. Those who already know Longview history will likely learn even more, while those who are getting their first taste of our rich past will be fascinated.

For those who aren't aware, the Big Inch was a pipeline built near the beginning of World War II to help transport oil from the East Texas Oil Field to New Jersey. It was an emergency effort designed to keep the oil safe from German submarines, and it took a massive effort to get the project done.

Fish's novel — her first — uses that story to unveil historical Longview from streets and parks right down to individual businesses and personalities of the time.

This is not merely dry history, however.

Fish's protagonist, Lane Mercer, tells the story through her lens as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA. She has been sent to Longview to help protect J.R. Parson, the man in charge of pushing the project through.

She was hired as a secretary for the undercover assignment and even Parson does not know she works for the OSS or is keeping tabs on his whereabouts and possible threats.

Mercer comes to Longview with baggage of her own, having just been whisked out of France after being involved in a failed operation that cost the lives of French resistance fighters. It is a heavy burden for her to bear as events unfold at a fast pace.

This is not blood-and-guts espionage. "The Big Inch" would fit more into the "cozy" category that has become so popular in mystery writing these days.

Fish does not shy away from describing Longview as it was in those days, though, and not all of it is a pretty picture. Our city, as the hub of the oilfield, was home to many unsavory types from organized crime gangs to prostitutes. Neither does Fish shy away from the institutionalized racism of the day.

All of which makes for a book that beckons one toward the finish line. It is tough to put down, especially after passing the halfway mark.

While history records the ultimate success of the pipeline, Fish's fictional story throws the reader a few curves along the way and conveys the tension those involved must have felt, particularly after almost 50 oil tankers had been sunk by missiles from German subs.

This is not one you will want to miss. Readers should get more exposure to Longview history as Fish has indicated this is "Book One" of a series she's calling "Misfits and Millionaires." We will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

One bit of advice would be to purchase the physical copy of the book as opposed to ordering it electronically through Amazon's Kindle. Formatting a book for Kindle can be tricky, and there are some spots in the digital version that make the reading more difficult. You want nothing to stand in the way of this fine first novel.

— Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the News-Journal.

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