In the new millennium, two men who never met write autobiographies that include experiences of severe bullying during National Service over forty years earlier.
Norman Midlin almost drowned. NCOs raped Perry Gray.
Perry responds to his violation and subsequent Army cover-up through vigilantism that includes poison-pen letters, planting bugs and evidence. He writes his story in code shortly before committing suicide because exposure as Mr Vitriol is nigh. The media invented the name and whipped up public loathing for the anonymous correspondent.
Norman copes with his Army nightmares by working to the point of exhaustion. He becomes a cryptanalyst. Retirement resurrects his horrors.
With the help of his wife he recovers until the police ask him to decrypt Perry’s pages. Disturbed by Perry’s account and then by being widowed, Norman teeters between illusion, delusion and shrewd insights. He intersperses Perry’s chapters with his own story and comments on parallels and differences.
Norman’s abhorrence of Mr Vitriol is tempered by Perry’s autobiography and the sense of his presence. The men develop a dialogue and a relationship that ranges from poignant to stormy.
PAUL BURNS spent nine years in North Wales and Merseyside before his family migrated to New Zealand in 1960. He studied psychology in Wellington and was a primary school teacher. Returning to England in 1978, he worked in continuing education and organisation development. He helped survivors of torture as a volunteer for seven years. Capturing the accounts of survivors for legal and therapeutic reasons re-ignited his interest in writing. He won first prize in the Leonard A. Koval Memorial short story competition in 2012. In 2013 he published a second novel, The Bush Baptist.