As like as two peas in a pod; as different as chalk and cheese. Michael Murray and Jim Nelson are about the same age, grew up together in the same (unnamed) Northern city, are lifelong members of the Labour Party, and presently find themselves suffering inexplicable, extreme stress.
Michael Murray is a charismatic and successful local politician, newly elected Leader of the City Council, poised to embark on a national career. An unscrupulous political opportunist surrounded by flunkies and yes-men, he has no friends, employs his elder brother Franky as an underpaid chauffeur, and scarcely remembers he has a wife and family at home.
By contrast, Jim Nelson is rank-and-file, unambitious, high-principled, loyal to his many friends in the community, devoted to his job and to his wife and children.
Michael is haunted by his past: by his humble birth, by the charismatic Union-leader father he never knew, by his classmates at school (and one sadistic little girl in particular), and most of all by the headmaster he blames for branding him a "loony" and sending him to a school for emotionally disturbed children.
Jim is proud of his working-class roots, is nostalgic for the past, and… is headmaster of a school for emotionally disturbed children.
Both believe they are being driven insane: Michael by a conspiracy he thinks he can unmask; Jim by something vague but terrible, inexorable, deadly, and having to do with bridges.
Political agitators begin to drift into the area, led by the extreme-Left political theorist Mervyn Sloan and his two action men, Lou Barnes and Peter Grenville. When they convince Michael to call a Day of Action, the entire city comes to a standstill. Except for one small and insignificant site inadvertently overlooked by Murray's pickets: the school where Jim Nelson teaches.moreless