Created by James L. Rubel
Pseudonyms include Mason Macrae, Timothy Hayes
“Meet Miss Donovan, the only private eye who wears mascara.
She’s easily the most beautiful shamus living.”
— the original cover blurb
One of the first attempts at writing a more down-to-earth woman detective in book form was James L Rubel’s surprisingly decent 1950 Gold Medal paperback original, No Business for a Lady, which introduced Los Angeles private eye ELI DONOVAN. Not only was she the hero, but she narrated the book in a suitably (well) hard-boiled fashion.
And Eli wasn’t just a flimsy gimmick –her author gave her a background with a bit of heft. She’s a former chorus girl and a Marine lieutenent, as well as a war widow–her husband, Jim Malone, was killed in action two years earlier, near the end of World Wat II. She was also involved in a nasty car accident, which required plastic surgery on her face — although, of course, she’s still a babe (this is still the fifties, after all).
Mostly Eli’s small agency handles small, meat-and-potato investigations; skip traces, debt collection and the like. But things definitely get more interesting (and Eli gets to show off some pretty savvy detective work) when she spots her husband walking around–or at least some guy named Hal Farquar who’s a dead ringer for him.
There’s been a lot of hooey about Honey West being the first female private eye, but Eli popped up seven years earlier, and is all together more interesting.
And less prone to wardrobe malfunctions.
Which may explain why she was less successful, and why there was never a sequel.
ABOUT MY GRANDFATHER
By James Rubel (Jr.)
“My grandfather was a writer back in the thirities through the fifties and I wanted to just honour him with a page or two about him. He was an interesting guy and I thought his story was cool to read.
Again, nothing here about bass or music although I did hear my grandfather played a mean upright piano.
I am the namesake of my father and my grandfather James Lyon Rubel. My father is a well-known real estate attorney in the Newport Beach, California area. My grandfather James L. Rubel was the writer. He is mainly known for being a writer of many western and detective novels beginning in the 1930s all the way until his passing in 1960. While he wrote under the name James L. Rubel, he is better known for writing under the pseudonym of Mason Macrae. Another pseudonym, Timothy Hayes, was also used for at least three books.
From what I know of my grandfather he lived an intriguing life. After graduating from Dartmouth College (Class of 1917) with a business degree, he served in World War One as the pilot of those rickety bi-planes. We believe the types of planes he flew were Spads and the DeHaviland 4. These according to his diary were loaded with Samson Radial or Liberty engines. Flying these planes was an extremely brave thing to do — the planes were pretty unreliable and very dangerous. Many didn’t have motors that worked very well as you can see by my grandfather’s complaints in his diary. Several of these bi-planes were prone to shredding their wings during dives as well as overheating. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was easy to get lost and hard to find your way home sometimes.”
- “The two Sazeracs had loosened her up a little and it looked as if we might become buddies.”
— Eli does what she has to…
- “Good book. She and Henry Kane’s Marla Trent were decent antidotes to Honey West and Mavis Seidlitz.”
— David Vineyard (May 2023, Facebook)
- No Business for a Lady (1950) | Buy this book
- Dangerous Dames
A timeline of some of the major female eyes.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- May 20, 2023
The Bottom Line: “Meet Miss Donovan, the only private eye who wears mascara. She’s easily the most beautiful shamus living,” goes the 1950 blurb. Still, this ex-Marine P.I. is a welcome antidote to Honey West.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. A special thanks to James Rubel, who’s a professional bass player in the Southern California area, for his brief insight into his grandfather.