Al Rankin

Created by Bevis Winter
Peseudonyms include Al Bocca, Peter Cagney, Sammy Coburn, Bennet Hill & Gordon Shayne; and the house pseudonym Hyman Zore

I don’t know much about Bevis Winters’s 1948 novel, Redheads Are Poison, except that is starred hard-boiled gumshoe AL RANKIN, who at one point encounters the red-headed hottie Maisie Tewnham:

“Her bright red hair ought to warn those foolish guys not to succumb … ”

And the only reason I know that is because the cover for the book, a paperback published by Hamilton & Co (the only known edition), was done by H. W. Perl (1897-1952), an illustrator chiefly known to fans of British post-war pulp fiction.

But that cover is, well, sort of spectacular. I mean, just look at it!

J. Kingston Pierce called it “suggestive” and noted that the “long-legged beauty in a dress so sheer that one’s imagination hasn’t far to leap.”

Perl was, according to an article on the Bookhunter on Safari web site in 2016, “one of the most prolific artists in that genre, working for almost all the leading publishers – and he was quite simply one of the best – one of only a handful of pulp artists remembered and collected in his own right,” ands goes on to suggest that:

“What is distinctive about Perl at his best – unlike the brazen perfection of Heade and Wright’s fantasy women – is that the Perl Girls, as we think of them, at least look like real women: women we can imagine having real lives behind the falsities of the pin-up pose – women who might be up for a laugh or a drink in the pub; women we can even imagine quietly reading a book; women with everyday concerns for friends and family, or who might once in a while have a momentary doubt as to what the posing was about.”

But I digress, of course.

As for the book and the author, there’s not much more info available. Turns out, he was British (not Australian, as previously reported). Bevis Winter was born in Birmingham, England in 1918, he died in 1985 at Haywards Heath, Sussex. He was a relatively prolific writer (some say “hack”) in the fifties and sixties, writing under a slew of pseudonyms, including Peter Cagney, a somewhat clumsy mash-up of Peter Cheyney and James Cagney.  He even had a hand in publishing and editing Stag, one of the first British mens’ magazine. He also published a non-fiction book, The Naked Truth About Freelance Writing in 1948.

John Conquest, in his iconic Trouble is Their Business (and his tongue firmly in cheek) suggests that Winters “obviously read a lot of PI fiction,” and dismissed his series PI, Steve Craig (by far his most popular creation), as “a reasonable imitation of run of the mill, second-rate American writing,” and suggests that his other work (under various pen names) are “much the same.” Other private eyes include Major Martin Myers and Mike Strang.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with much gratitude to Pennie Thomson for her help.

Leave a Reply