The three-book Pepperoni Hero series debuted in 1975 and was probably the oddest named series in the men’s adventure genre. It’s hard to learn much about the author, Bill Kelly (Copyright: William Kelly), because there have been dozens of novelists with the same name over the past 50 years. The hard-to-acquire series is a running joke among collectors and fans of the genre, but I’ve never met anyone who has actually read one. I decided to take the plunge.
First, Pepperoni Hero is his real name. The first name is from a drunken father and the last name was historically truncated from Heropoulus by a Greek immigrant ancestor, yet his friends call him Pep or Pepper. The novel is a low-rent tribute (okay, rip-off) to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. For example, McGee’ houseboat, “The Busted Flush,” is named after the poker hand that won him the boat. Pepper’s houseboat is called “Crap” because he won his boat in a dice game. On the book’s first page, Pep is in bed reading “John D. MacDonald’s latest Travis McGee satire,” and Pep drinks Plymouth Gin on the rocks, just like McGee. At times, its difficult to tell if this book is outright parody, fan fiction or just an earnest - but inferior- cover band.
Like McGee, Pep is a boat bum with the unusual twist that he’s doing it in Chicago while moored at Navy Pier Marina. He works as an adventurer for hire helping people who can’t enlist the help of the law for one reason or another. This 188-page paperback is one long flashback with Pep recounting his life story to the reader. Some of the stories he tells about his checkered past are very compelling, but I kept wondering when the novel was going to start. Then, all of a sudden, I realized that one of those old war stories was, in fact, the plot of the novel.
The plot deals with Pep helping an old Vietnam War buddy who wants Pep to use his superior poker skills to clean out his wealthy brother-in-law. The reason this is important involves a convoluted and rather stupid sibling rivalry and a dead man’s will with millions at stake. This turns into a murder plot with an impotent bad guy involved in sexual torture, homemade porno movies, and blackmail. Meanwhile, Pep gets laid a lot.
Kelly is actually a pretty good writer but his plotting is an abomination. He does seem to know his way around the neighborhoods and norms of Chicago. The action scenes are well-described, and Pep is a credible badass. The sex scenes, and there are many, are plenty graphic. Finally, the author gives Pep an eight-inch dong - consistent with the league minimum for numbered 1970s paperbacks.
Despite these mitigating factors, the bottom line is that no one in his right mind would ever recommend this mess of a novel to you for anything other than the novelty of the cover. By all means, buy it and display it proudly. But for heaven’s sake, please don’t read it. Only one of us should have to endure this mess of a paperback.