No Business for a Lady by James L. Rubel. Fawcett Gold Medal (1950), 159 pp.
Eli Donovan, former chorus girl, Marine lieutenant and police officer, now works as a private detective in Los Angeles. Mostly she tracks down deadbeat customers for her clients. One day she sees a man who looks like Jim Malone, her husband whom the Navy pronounced dead two years earlier at the close of the war. She learns his name, Hal Farquar, and concocts a reason to meet his wealthy and domineering wife, Janice. Instead of providing information, Janice hires her to discover whether her husband has been playing around. Eli lines up some sources -- hat designer Kerry Dane, police officer Bill Teague and Hal’s friend Dan Cordovan -- and gets to work. She realizes that if Jim and Hal are the same person, she will want her husband back.
Female detectives don’t show up very often in paperback mysteries. So Rubel deserves credit for creating such a protagonist and then daring to make her the story’s first-person narrator. The author tries to feminize the character by providing her thoughts on fashion, make-up and interior decoration. Getting into her head has special importance because plastic surgery after a car accident has totally changed her previous appearance. Even if Hal really is Jim, she can get close to him without being recognized and make plans accordingly. The story moves along smoothly, with the author regularly dropping nuggets of information for protagonist and reader to process. Perhaps too much is made of Eli’s appearance (she’s beautiful) to sit well with a modern audience. Nevertheless, present-day readers who can accept this remnant of the 1950s might well enjoy the book.