“The Empty Glass” by J. I. Baker (2012) - 325 pages
Now that fifty years have gone by since Marilyn Monroe died on August 1, 1962. it must be time for her death to be turned into a dark noir fiction just as the death of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia murder fifteen years earlier, has been turned into several noir novels and movies. “The Empty Glass” by J. I. Baker is a dark noir fiction based on the death of Marilyn Monroe.
The plotting here is pretty standard stuff for noir fiction. It’s like J. I. Baker wanted to touch all the noir bases without adding anything original of his own. I would call ‘The Empty Glass’ a ‘Coroner Procedural’ just as some novels are called ‘Police Procedurals’. Our main character Ben Fitzgerald here is a deputy coroner. The first time our hero encounters Marilyn Monroe is when he helps perform an autopsy on her lifeless corpse.
Did Marilyn Monroe commit suicide or was she murdered? That is the main question of “The Empty Glass”. Certain details from the autopsy were suspicious such as Marilyn supposedly took all these big pills, but the empty glass near her bed had not been used recently. Also her body was in a position which would indicate that it had been moved. Also there is a six hour gap between the time her body was discovered at 10:30 PM and the time the authorities were called at 4:25 AM.
Inevitably the story revolves around the Kennedys especially Robert who happened to be in the area at a Hollywood house party with Rat Pack friends Frank Sinatra and Kennedy’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford. Robert had apparently broken off his affair with Marilyn a few weeks earlier. He showed up at Marilyn’s apartment in the afternoon before the night she died, and they had a big fight. Marilyn resented being passed from brother to brother and then dropped entirely. Robert Kennedy was tired of her constant attempts to reach him and his brother John.
The dialogue in “The Empty Glass” is short and snappy as you would expect in a noir novel.
“You started with us as . . .”
“Deputy Coroner. Suicide Notes and Weapons. I was an embalmer before.’
“So you wanted a change.”
“The truth is I wanted more money. My son was born. I needed it. So I took the civil service exam and the walk-through test.”
“The walk-through test?”
“You have to walk through this place and not pass out.”
There are also hard-as-nails scenes about Ben’s personal life, all pretty routine tough-guy stuff for a noir novel, beatings by Rat Pack bodyguard thugs, sticky sentimental encounters with his seven year old son, etc. These are only a sidelight, not the main plot line.
There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet regarding the death of Marilyn Monroe mystery and room for questions about what happened. J. I. Baker seems to take a lot of pleasure in trashing the Kennedys. He even falls out of his noir style so he can more carefully conjecture the Kennedy involvement. I question the author’s motives but realize this is strictly fiction. Was this supposed to be a Hollywood mystery or an anti-Kennedy screed? What starts our as a dark noir turns into a nasty political novel.