After getting my roommate into “Your’s Truly, Johnny Dollar,” the radio drama, earlier in the year, I was expecting the fan content we made to be the newest content coming out for the show for the foreseeable future. I could not have been more wrong.
For the most part, this collection of stories was an absolute joy to read, containing just about everything I love about America’s favorite freelance insurance investigator. Pretty dames, Johnny always footing the bill for his colleagues meals (regardless of gender) and, of course, Johnny getting a bump on his head for his troubles or, you know, thrown in a bear baiting pit (“The Soda City Matter” by Joshua Reynolds).
While it was a hard choice, I believe my favorite story the collection was “The Carbuncle Matter” by Joe Gentile. It’s… wait for it…. a Johnny Dollar and Sherlock Holmes crossover. Not in the sense that the work they case side by side, but Johnny Dollar is investigating a case that is essentially a continuation of a case that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson worked in the 1880s.
While the radio series ran from 1949 to 1962, most of the stories are very ambiguous about just when they are set. The only one that had a concrete date attached to it was “The Driven to Kill Matter” by Eric Fein, which was set in 1954. That said, not knowing the exact years doesn’t hurt the stories, you can easily intuit that these aren’t modern if by nothing else than how cheap everything seems in Johnny’s expense accounts.
Something I appreciated throughout the stories was that Johnny was portrayed as very forward thinking in his time, and as a result there are things touched on that never would have made it into the original radio show, except possibly as coded villainy. Specifically in “The Who Killed Johnny Dollar Matter” by Tommy Hancock, there is explicit reference to the queer goings on in Greenwich Village, it’s not a huge moment, but I found it a significant moment for a property that would not historically have dealt with that at all, much less in a positive light.
Now, aside from me, personally, headcanoning Johnny Dollar as a chaotic bisexual due to some of his interactions with other men coming across as basically flirting, there are no canonically LGBTQ characters in the book, so it didn’t quite get that far.
Now I will say, there is some period typical racism that I think could have been avoided. There was the tired (white savior) bad guy working alongside African criminals to combat colonialism trope in one of the stories, but it does seem like it was supposed to be an attempt at critiquing colonialism and the diamond trade.
The biggest offender, however, was “The Swamp Manor Matter” by Barry Reese, which employed the white slavery trope (specifically white sex slavery). Now, there were cultural anxieties during the time that the original Johnny Dollar was running about this, but if the vast majority of the stories in the book manage to avoid such tropes, then I question its use. In today’s day and age “white slavery” has become something of a Nazi/white supremacy dogwhistle as well, which was an uncomfortable connection, though I certainly don’t want to accuse the author of that. Regardless, I was more than a little disappointed by this story.