The series is a homage to ‘Doc Savage’ pulp heroes – and I’m guessing a fair number of Asimovs readers may well have no idea at all as to who that character was, or what pulp heroes were. But as with the other stories, there is more to the story than that, and the majority of this story is from the perspective of someone who is indeed trying to take the old man down, or, to be more specific, trying to find out if he is need of being taken down.
The Old Man is imprisoned by the American authorities, a single prisoner in a remote Texan complex. He’s been there some years, but hasn’t cracked. In fact the hasn’t done much at all. His new interrogator is something quite different. Preston looks at issues the evil men have done, even when it is rationalised through doing a greater good, or just doing plain evil – whether it’s Stalinist purges, or waterboarding/Abu Graib. The new character, Jimmy Randolph has to some extent been there/done that, but his special talents are to be used to get inside the head of the Old Man, and to seek out, or create good, rather than brainwash to remove the evil.
The story neatly entwines a current narrative with recently finished events, so we know that something has happened, which Jimmy has to work his way through, in addition to the combat stress prior to that. And, quite charmingly, the Old Man as a pulp magazine hero is see to be just that (you’ll have to read the story). Just a shame though that the cover of the magazine, illustrates a scene from the denouement in a way that doesn’t really do the story justice, whereas a 1930s-style pulp magazine cover, or, indeed, the 1930s pulp magazine cover, would have been even better.
And the story sets up a Big Finale quite nicely.