The Empty Glass
L.A. County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald is a 'go along to get along' kind of guy. That's but one of the marks against him in the opinion of his perturbed wife who throws in his face that he's stained his reputation when he perjured himself to protect his boss. She's got a bunch of other complaints too, all of which means she's looking for a new father for their small son Max.
To add to the personal nerve wracking muddle Fitzgerald is becoming mired in, he is drinking a lot, a legacy of his father whose boozing finally led to dad simply disappearing from Ben's life one day . He was a motherless child, and that left him completely alone.
He's prone to nightmares.
He's trying to give up smoking.
Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald's groggy when a knock at the door of his seedy room at a second rate hotel brings word of a phone call he should answer at the desk downstairs at five o'clock on the morning of August 5, 1962. It's his job calling. He's to go to a death scene where as deputy coroner he's in charge of overseeing suicide notes and evidence.
So begins a noir novel revisit to a mystery that continues to puzzle hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people who ponder the demise of Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe.
So while J. I. Baker's sinister and surreal venture into that very territory with "The Empty Glass" goes over the same ground other writers have tread, most notably J. Randy Taraborrelli in "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe," this story has an unsettling quality that's hard to shake which makes it worth the time for readers who enjoy being creeped out.
Readers who're already acquainted with the Byzantine details of the scene in the tiny bedroom in the one-floor hacienda in Brentwood have a leg up in grasping how Fitzgerald almost immediately becomes entangled in the snarky political overtones surrounding this case.
As it's his job to contact the next of kin, he calls the number for a Mrs. Green that's prominently displayed in Marilyn's diary thinking it's her mother, Whoops! That's the code name Bobby Kennedy gave Marilyn should she want to contact him at his offices in Washington, D.C.
That phone call, of course, sets off warning bells for the Kennedy brothers both of whom had relationships with Marilyn, perhaps, amorous, perhaps, in the case of Bobby, maybe only as intermediary to get her off his brother's back when the President wanted to move on to other, less needy paramours. Then again there are those pesky helicopters that fly in at strange hours from Bobby's place in northern California. Hoover's F.B.I. comes into play in the story too, even the C.I.A.'s interested in Marilyn's recent trip to Mexico, ostensibly to buy furniture for her new little house.
In the meantime, other people are also desirous of covering up the oddities at the scene, most especially the absence, then presence of an empty glass that would have contained the water needed to wash down the pile of pills Marilyn has supposedly ingested (or maybe not). Her psychiatrist who prescribed the narcotics is the first at the scene, called by Marilyn's housekeeper, whom he hired to report back to him on Marilyn's activities and moods. They wait some hours before phoning the police.
The mix of historical fact with Fitzgerald's spiraling downward emotionally and his interventions into a case that is pitted with booby traps is a fascinating tightrope balancing act devised by author Baker, who walks the high tension wire with assuredness. By day, Baker is the executive editor of "Conde Nast Traveler" magazine.
"The Empty Glass"
J. I. Baker
Blue Rider Press (Penguin Group)
by J. I. Baker