If you like James Ellroy…

As we close out the year, it’s time to take some time to give the fans of some of our favorite authors a few ideas about what to read next. This year, we start with James Ellroy, who stunned us all with his latest release, Perfidia. If you love Ellroy, here are some other books that MysteryPeople guarantees you’ll love sinking your teeth into.

the empty glassThe Empty Glass by J.I. Baker

A look at Marilyn Monroe’s death from the perspective of a county coroner certain of murder. One of the best uses of character point of view. Baker gives us a Hollywood at a period when its classic glamour was beginning to crack. An atmospheric, stylish, and downward spiral.

 

song is youThe Song Is You by Megan Abbott

Abbott uses the unsolved mystery of missing starlet Jean Spangler for a look at the underside of Fifties Hollywood and the treatment of women. Dark, disturbing, and beautiful.

 

 

ratlinesRatlines by Stuart Neville

As his country prepares for a visit from President Kennedy, an Irish investigator is asked to clear up the murder of a German immigrant as quickly as possible. His inquiry takes him down a violent rabbit hole of war criminals, the Mossad, money, politics, and the ratlines that helped Nazis find asylum in Ireland.

MysteryPeople Q&A with J. I. Baker

j i baker

J.I. Baker’s The Empty Glass has become a favorite of mine since I read the paperback version this year. Dealing with a deputy coroner, Ben Fitzgerald, and his involvement in the Marylin Monroe death, the novel is a nightmare of conspiracy, reckless ambitions, and a decaying old Hollywood. Baker was kind enough to take some questions from us about character voice, setting, and the dream world he created.

the empty glass

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Empty Glass is carried by a strong point of view. How did you build that voice of Ben Fitzgerald?

J. I . BAKER: That voice comes from my very pervasive fears of losing everything, of being totally lost. I’ve been relatively successful, but I always feel that I’m one tiny misstep away from being some crazy alcoholic in a skid-row hotel. Well, that’s a noir trope, isn’t it? Which may be why I’m so attracted to the genre. But I feel it pretty deeply, so it doesn’t take much for me to write from the perspective of some lost soul sitting on a bald mattress in a bad hotel and wondering what the hell happened to his life.

MP: Part of the story deals with parts of Marylin Monroe’s journal. How did you capture a voice that the reader may think he or she knows?

JIB: Well, it’s a risk, for sure, but again, that voice is mine, on some level—the irrational, obsessive, addictive side of my personality. That said, the events in the diary in the novel are based on a lot of research. We know very little for sure about what happened to Marilyn at the end, but I based what I wrote on reliable reports.

MP: You have quite a bombshell reveal at the end. Did you have it in mind before you started writing or did the story lead you into it?

JIB: Actually, the editing led me to it. My initial version was completely different—and, without giving too much away, much more optimistic. And the ending of the screenplay version I just wrote for David Winkler at Winkler Films is a big change from the book. So I guess you could say I had three different endings.

MP: When we talked before, you mentioned that you had an affection for LA crime fiction. What draws you to that city for a backdrop?

JIB: Where do I begin? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with Los Angeles. I had a map of the city on my bedroom wall when I was a kid and used to recite its street names to get to sleep—maybe because I didn’t like where, or who, I was. Like New York, L.A. is a place where you can reinvent yourself and create a whole new life. That’s an optimistic, very American idea, but in so much L.A. fiction (and fact) you see what happens when the hopes are dashed or—sometimes worse—fulfilled.

5. What is the biggest thing to keep in mind when writing in a particular period?

JIB: Research! But never forget that if you’re constantly showing off the work you’ve done, it will take readers out of the story. Your fictional world is revealed through your characters, and your characters aren’t going to be hyper-aware of the cool period details you’ve dug up. They don’t think about the fact that they’re driving a 1963 Imperial LeBaron that’s cheaper than the pre-1960 Crowns but really prone to rust. They just need to get somewhere. So you have to find a way to introduce period detail and authenticity unobtrusively, as your characters—not you or I—would see it.

MP: What do you want the reader to take away about Marylin Monroe’s death?

JIB: All I want to do is to tell a good story, but it seems pretty clear to me that—however Marilyn died—funny business was involved. I’m not saying she was definitely murdered, but it seems undeniable that, at minimum, powerful people helped suppress information about her relationships. Many readers think that I made up a lot of stuff about her death, but all of it (the time changes, the water glass, the missing tissue samples) is based on fact.

________________________________

Copies of The Empty Glass are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

A Fresh Take on Marilyn Monroe & Historical Noir

the empty glass

I’d been meaning to read J.I. Baker’s The Empty Glass for some time, even though I’ve never been interested in the conspiracy of Marilyn Monroe’s death. It had received glowing reviews and a heartfelt endorsement from one of my favorite authors, Megan Abbott. I finally picked it up after it came out in paperback. If you haven’t read it yet, get it now.

Baker locks you into his narrator, Ben Fitzgerald, from the start. Ben’s an LA deputy coroner, separated from his wife after a possibly trumped up scandal. When called to Marilyn Monroe’s modest home, everything looks out of place to him. He definitely knows it is not a suicide, the way his superiors want it ruled. With the help of a gossip columnist and Monroes’ Little Red Book diary he stole, he goes looking for the truth.

That truth leads to a hellish descent in the City Of Angels. He becomes discredited, his family is threatened, and he gets roughed up by criminal and cop alike (you’ll never look at a cucumber the same way again). Some historical figures, like Sinatra and “patriotic” gangster Johnny Roselli, figure into the crime. As you’d suspect, so do the Kennedys, but the way they do is a kicker.

Baker’s style fits perfectly to the story and character. It is spare, but not terse, giving a rich flow to a period and place more as a state of mind. He occasionally breaks the fourth wall, with Ben talking to the reader (or someone), which makes him a less than reliable narrator while still keeping a strong narrative drive. In a subtle way, it presents more possibilities for the plot as we doubt Fitzgerald’s sanity.

Baker uses the Marilyn Monroe conspiracy, then transcends it. He gives us such a strong point of view that it becomes more about Fitzgerald’s life and downfall. Even the Monroe diary passages seem more of Ben’s perception of her writing than her actual words. He also uses the setting to look at an LA that is losing the classic glamor it has relied on for so many years.

The Empty Glass is a fresh take on historical noir. It finds the moody, downward spiral of it’s subject matter and brings it to a full, dark bloom. When J.I. Baker’s next novel comes out, I won’t be waiting for the paperback.

_______________________________

Copies of The Empty Glass are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

J.I. Baker is Skyping In for the Hard Word Book Club

The Hard Word Book Club will have a special discussion on its June 26th meeting with a special book, J.I. Baker’s The Empty Glass. The book deals with a deputy coroner drawn into the conspiracy of Marylin Monroe’s death. Told in a unique voice that at times breaks the fourth wall, it’s as much a look at it’s troubled character and a changing Los Angeles as it is a good ol’ fashioned procedural. This is a perfect book for fans of James Ellroy and Megan Abbott.

J.I. Baker will be skyping in for our discussion. The Empty Glass is 10% off for those who participate. Join us at 7PM, Wednesday, the 26th, on our third floor. There will be much to discuss.