The Empty Glass: A Novel - J.I. Baker

In the early-morning hours of August 5, 1962, Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the home of the world's most famous movie star, now lying dead in her bedroom, naked and still clutching a telephone.  There he discovers The Book of Secrets - Marilyn Monroe's diary - revealing a doomed love affair with a man she refers to only as "The General."  In the following days, Ben unravels a wide-ranging cover-up and some heartbreaking truths about the fragile, luminous woman behind the celebrity.  Soon the sinister and surreal accounts in The Book of Secrets bleed into Ben's own life, and he finds himself, like Monroe, trapped in a deepening paranoid conspiracy.  The Empty Glass is an unforgettable combination of the riveting facts and legendary theories that have dogged Monroe, the Kennedy's, the Mafia, and even the CIA for decades.






What with the anniversary of JFK's assassination having just passed, I thought this one might be an interesting one to get into, and I do love me some good Hollywood noir from time to time. While being a novelization, this one does work in a lot of known fact as well as the more well known conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn Monroe's death. 


This novel tells the story of Ben Fitzgerald, a coroner for the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office (LACC). He's called in to investigate the body and bedroom of famous screen actress Marilyn Monroe after she is found dead on her bed of a suspected overdose in August of 1962 -- the year before JFK's own death. During his investigation, Ben quickly sees a number of things that strike him as odd but doesn't think too much about it until days later when he discovers paperwork showing that certain standard procedures were skipped over during Marilyn's autopsy, and information that should be in her file has mysteriously gone missing. What initially struck Ben as just simply odd now reeks of something significantly more shady. Then there's Marilyn's diary that has everyone up in arms as its exact whereabouts change frequently (and confusingly) throughout the novel. This diary is said to be the book where Marilyn wrote down all the government secrets the Kennedy brothers -- and others -- got all loose lipped & chatty about post-coitus. Once it falls into Ben's hands, he finds his sanity, his family, even his very own life are all facing termination.


As a whole, I thought this was a pretty entertaining story but I did have some issues with it. The story is largely told in 1st person from Ben's perspective, but he also refers to "you" as in the reader... but he says "you, Doc" so it almost makes the reader one of the characters, this doctor (a psychiatrist? psychologist? I'm not quite sure, but I got the impression it was something along those lines) who is questioning Ben (who seems to be detained / arrested but maybe under psychiatric watch?), asking him to recount the events that make up the bulk of this story, explaining to the reader why he is being detained. I kinda liked this method of storytelling, but it did get confusing at times. As did the fact that sometimes the POV switches to the voice of Marilyn writing in her diary but the chapter does not change into a diary format with a date or anything, you as the reader are just left to figure it out each time it happens. That, I wasn't so much a fan of. 


While the pace of the story was pretty good through a large part of the book, it did lose some steam for me around the halfway point. It was around this point that I felt the storyline was too heavily focused on Ben's marital problems. This probably would have been alright if the book was a little longer and there was space for that but clearly this book is meant to lure in those interested in the life of Monroe. With the second half of the book, she started to feel like a background player. There was a tie written in that connected Ben's personal life & problems to Marilyn's diary and the people after it, but I still think the focus was lost a bit. There were also a few scenes that I struggled to suspend my disbelief with --

like the realtor giving out the name of a guy Ben's estranged wife is seeing to a woman she believes is a complete stranger interested in buying the Fitzgeralds' house {the "stranger" is actually a friend of Ben's but still, what kind of realtor just hands out personal info about their sellers like that?!}

(show spoiler)


Also, there's what I felt was a gratuitous sex scene thrown in. I don't mind sex scenes if they fit with what's going on but to me, those two had barely established a casual friendship before they were throwing down and throwing out the "you and me against the world" attitude. What? Where did that come from?! You gotta establish those kinds of bonds emotionally with character history and background, it doesn't just happen with countertop quickies! 


It's a fun read with a pretty strong, tense finish in the last few chapters but I didn't find it quite as gripping as I had hoped. 


I'd also say that if you are a big fan of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and/or Frank Sinatra, this novel doesn't paint so nice a picture of any of them. So heads up, Rat Pack era fans! 


Heads up to more sensitive readers: This one does feature some colorful language, and there's a few violent scenes near the end that get a little gruesome in description.