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The Empty Glass - J.I. Baker

Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wow, what a first book for an author! It had me on pins and needles and I wanted to put it down because I couldn't handle the suspense anymore!

The book is told from the viewpoint of Ben Fitzgerald, Deputy Coroner of Los Angeles County. Its 1962 and Marilyn Monroe has just been found in her Brentwood home. Ben is called to the scene, ostensibly to notify next of kin. He notices some things amiss and his curiosity gets the best of him. He begins to ask questions and do his own detective work, in a case where it seems no one wants to be a part of it. Ben gets tangled up with a reporter, Jo Carnahan, who is also looking into the seedier details of Marilyn's death. As Ben gets more deeply involved in his investigation, strange things start happening to him, bad things start to happen to him as well. The question becomes not just "What REALLY happened to Marilyn?"; it become more "Will Ben survive?"

I love the subject of this book! I love any and all conspiracy theories, no matter how far fetched. I think it makes life seem less mundane if there is a secret reason behind seemingly tragic, random events. The death of Marilyn Monroe is one of those tragic events that I think a lot of people want there to be meaning to. It wasn't just that Marilyn was a sad, depressed, unstable woman with a family history of mental illness; it was that Marilyn knew too much, knew things she shouldn't and just wasn't smart enough to keep quiet about it all. I, too, hope/wish that there is more meaning behind Marilyn's death, which is why I continued with the book, even when I didn't want to.

I thought that the way the author wrote this book was exceedingly confusing. It's told from Ben's point of view but Ben is telling his story to someone. We never find out who he was telling his story to, only that he calls this person, "Doc". I'm pretty sure that he was talking to a shrink in either a hospital or jail because there is mention of "Psych Eval" written on the side of a box that his name is written on and that Doc places the recordings of Ben telling his story. But to be honest, I was never really sure. Later, when Ben is reading the Marilyn's diary, it's difficult to tell when the journal entry ends and when Ben starts speaking again. I think you get used to it because the further I read in the book, the less I noticed it. Either that or I was so confused that I just quit caring. Also, I never quite knew if Jo was helping Ben or setting him up for failure. I feel like I never got a definitive answer on that either. The side story about Ben's son and Ben's soon-to-be ex-wife also confused me. Was his wife dating a mobster? If yes, why? I mean, was the mobster dating Ben's wife to get closer to Ben or was it a coincidence? I have tons of unanswered questions, just like those...

That was what I didn't like about the book. What I did like about the book is a much more extensive list. I loved (and hated!) how on the edge of my seat this book made me feel! I felt like danger was lurking around every corner for Ben. Actually, I felt like I should be looking over my shoulder while I was reading it. I was sure I would see someone watching me from behind mirrored sunglasses or following me home! Gah! I also loved that I couldn't tell what was fiction and what was truth in this book. I only know some vague details of Marilyn's death and that there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it but what parts of this book are true? Were the autopsy findings in the book the real autopsy findings? Was there a diary? Were there recordings? Were the recordings made at Marilyn's request? Then, there were times that I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, Ben WAS crazy! I mean, some of the phrases he uses and the way he would talk, he sounded crazy to me. For example, throughout the book, his wife complains that he lives in a dirty motel and that he shouldn't take their kid there but he says that it isn't a motel; that it's an apartment. Later, he's talking about something and says that he goes back to his hotel and then he tells the Doc to strike that from the record; that it's an apartment. I mean, does that MATTER at this point?! So it seemed like Ben was fixated on these little details that he shouldn't be worrying about right then, which, to me, came off as sort of crazy sounding.

I liked this book but I didn't love it. I thought the pacing was a little uneven. It seemed very slow at some points, bogged down in details about the time period. Towards the end, the paced picked up and it was much better. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that this mystery was about the death of Marilyn Monroe, which can have so many interesting elements: The Mob, Cuba, The Kennedys, drugs, booze, Frank Sinatra. And I loved that in some ways, everyone had a hand in Marilyn's death. That no one was blameless, not even her friends. The author wraps up the ending in a neat little package but still manages to throw in one last surprise. Well, two surprises if you don't see the ending coming. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a serious interest in the death of Marilyn Monroe, or who enjoys historical fiction.

By the way, you may be asking yourself (as I was), so what IS the empty glass, referenced in the title? This part, I can tell you: the empty glass is referring to the empty glass that was found in Marilyn's room that was NOT there originally. She's said to have had to taken pills (if this was, in fact, a suicide), but there was no water glass in her room. If she took so many pills (50-60), how was she able to get them down? Again, I don't know how much of this is fiction and how much is truth so you'll have to come to your own conclusions about that!