A Drop in the Night – Royce Fulmer

I love tales of WWII. I was intrigued when A Drop in the Night came up in my feeds as an Amazon freebie, the tale of an ordinary young American whose life is dramatically changed by the War. Royce Fulmer took experience as a youth as a bootlegger, transmuted his expertise with cars to expertise with planes, and eventually became a valuable member of a top-secret Air Force squad responsible for dropping people and supplies into Nazi-controlled areas. It’s a fantastic framework for a story, and a friend, Thea Rademacher, took it all down as he told it and turned it into a book.

And, sadly, it’s one of those things that with a tremendous amount of editorial attention and structure could have lived up to the fantastic framework.

The typos in this were horrendous, and endemic. “One of the most famous groups, ‘The Marquis,’ took their name from a type of scrub bush found in the high ground of Southeastern France.” I did not know about the scrub bushes – but I did know about the Maquis. There was a comment on the “high causality rate”.

Perhaps the one that made me twitch the most was the persistent error of “World War LL” for the obvious. That might be a formatting error rather than straight up typo, but the fact remains it was never caught and corrected.

A fair number of the grammatical errors in the book are down to the fact that Ms. Rademacher apparently adhered to Mr. Fulmer’s exact words in relaying his story. She retains his colorful language (lots of dropped g’s, and charming things like “You’d shit your britches seein’ how we did this at first”) and sentence structure (“If something happened, not work exactly right, then I was there to help them”). In places, though, use of quotation marks is erratic, and it’s not clear whether something is a Fulmer quote or a Rademacher narration, and so “since he last outran the police” or “the sharecroppers use to fight with knifes” are just a little dismaying.

Honestly – just personal feeling here – I just didn’t enjoy most of the horse’s mouth bits. Example, showing a bit more crudeness than I admire (that sounds prissy, doesn’t it? Sorry) along with a smidgen of “Huh?”:

“Clark Gable was there. I saw him. He went through school there; he was three weeks ahead of me. He flew a combat mission or two, but then got into photography. Girls would just piss their pants when they saw him. He wore clothes just like the rest of us. People would point him out a little bit. He lived in the officer barracks. I never did go for that movie star bit, except for Jimmy Stewart. He was a squadron commander. I heard a lot about him because he flew combat missions. He didn’t mess around with any Clark Gable stuff.”

Some of the editoral issues are almost certainly in the relation of the story. There were some accidentally hilarious misplaced modifiers:

– “One of four siblings, his father died from cancer when all the children, very close in age, were also very young.”
– “Fatherless until he was four, Lessie Mae met another man who would become Royce’s step father.”

And there were other errors that made this a less-than-enjoyable read. “They arrived at Goose Bay, a province of Newfoundland and Labrador in an area that today is in Canada. With short, mild summers that last only a few weeks…”

This all became a bit fuzzy. Goose Bay was never a province – it’s an airfield. Newfoundland and Labrador form the province of Canada, and they were an independent dominion until they joined the Canadian Confederacy in 1949 as one province, the last to join. The detail about the “short, mild summers” is apparently true of the area of Labrador where Goose Bay is located, but I can tell you from experience that at least the west coast of Newfoundland has summers that last just as long as they do in, say, the Northeastern US, and they can be just as hot and humid. It’s a big province – where I used to spend time is nearly a thousand miles south of Goose Bay.

There is quite a bit of “Captain Obvious is obvious”, for example in the section introducing the flight crew. “The pilot of the aircraft was the man in charge.” Uh … huh. “…The third officer on the flight crew was the navigator, Jack P. Barton. It was his job to keep the plane on course to its destination, giving the pilot compass headings. He was to know where the plane was at all times.” Yes, thank you. Navigator, navigating. I see. “…Most of the missions were intentionally flown on moonlit nights in an effort to reduce the risk that the low-flying plane would collide with the landscape”. Very wise.

That last bit, about planes colliding with the landscape, is key to the book. It was, of course, a very real danger, and was the cause of a great many causalities – er, casualties. But it’s repeated over and over and over, to an eye-rolling degree.

And there’s also some “Hey, I found this out in research and thought I’d share”:

“Royce and the other enlistees shared a Quonset Hut with another crew. These light-weight prefabricated barracks provided greater protection from cold English winters compared to previous barracks, a tent with a wooden floor. The shelters were easily assembled with simple tools. Quonset Huts were first produced in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. This New England town took its name from a Native American tribe that once lived there. For them, Quonset meant boundary.”

Also: “…Lambourn. Located in the southeastern part of Berkshire County, England, gold bracelets dating back to 1200 B.C. have been found here. The beloved author JRR Tolkien lived near this village.”

I’ll take British Village Trivia Unrelated to the Book for $400, Alex. I love Tolkien with all my heart, but here he was completely irrelevant.

So, yes, it’s a great story. Top-secret, highly dangerous, highly important sabotage and espionage missions into Nazi-occupied areas? Fantastic. Impressive. Thank you for your service. But the telling of this story did nothing to showcase the heroism and courage of these flight crews (the Carpetbaggers) or of the men they ferried to their missions (and women – something like 37 of the people the squad dropped behind enemy lines were women) – and in fact perhaps half the book is spent on Mr. Fulmer’s checkered past and his life after the war. While he well deserves to have his story told, and while he had a fairly epic post-war experience, I have to say it was something of a letdown to go from high-risk WWII flying to the business world and family life of post-war America … especially since I believe a fair interpretation of the book description (not to mention the cover and the title) indicates that the Carpetbaggers would be the focus of the book.

I seem to say it often: there’s something there, if it was only prepared and presented well. It made me a bit sad to read an acknowledgement someone whose “grammar skills and eye for detail are now legendary”. Oh. Dear.

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