The Chinaman - Stephen Leather
The Chinaman understood death.
Jungle-skilled, silent and lethal, Nguyen Ngoc Minh had killed for the Viet Cong and then for the Americans. Imprisoned and tortured after the Communist victory, he escaped with his wife and baby daughter to Hong Kong - but only after being forced to watch Thai pirates rape and kill his two eldest daughters.
Now the proud owner of the Double Happiness Chinese takeaway in South London, he watches his daughter grow into a beautiful young woman, secure in the knowledge that the horrors of his homeland are finally behind him.
Until the day an IRA bomb in a Knightsbridge store snatches his family from him in a horrific maelstrom of fire and glass.
Then, simply but persistently, he began to ask the authorities who were the men responsible, what was being done. And was turned away, fobbed off, treated as a nuisance.
Which was when the Chinaman, denied justice, decided on revenge. And went back to war.
Stephen Leather writes: The Chinaman was my first real best-seller, and my last as a part-time writer. From then on I wrote full-time. I'm not sure where the idea came from, though I knew I wanted to write about a hero who was underestimated by everyone he met. I also liked the idea of a jungle terrorist coming up against urban terrorists.
I wrote the book while I was working as a night news editor on the business desk of the Times in London, and was given a dressing down by the business editor for using the office laser printer to print out copies of the manuscript. (His secretary grassed me up, bless her). I'd left Collins and had no publisher for the book, but for the first time I had an agent and he managed to get several publishers interested and drew them into an auction.
Bill Massey at Hodder and Stoughton became my editor, and he did a great job helping me get the book into the shape it is now. It went on to sell well in the States and was translated into a dozen languages.
The character of Woody was based on a good friend of mine, Bill Corke, now sadly dead, who worked with me on the Daily Record in Glasgow, my first real job in journalism. One of my first jobs was to go and pull Bill out of a casino so he could cover a story. A real character.
The flat the IRA bombers used in the book was my rented flat in Wapping. Great place with views of the Thames. I used to sit there wondering how the SAS would storm it.
There's a minor appearance at the end of the book of a character called Mike Cramer, alias Joker, an SAS officer who I later used in The Long Shot and The Double Tap.
"Shortly after the war, a man called Geoffrey Household wrote Rogue Male, the benchmark one-man-against-the-world thriller against which all others must be judged. It tells of the lone hunter - no hi-tech, no guns, no back-up, nothing left to live for - who, against all the odds, stalks, and is stalked, by his well-armed, heavily-protected pray. Man turns into animal in the pursuit of vengeance.
Rogue Male became a classic. Stephen Leather has just written another on the theme, and it is very high praise to say that it is nearly as good. His Chinaman is actually Vietnamese, but that is deliberate. The stalking ground is rural Ulster; the Chinaman's quarry the IRA boss who, he believes, ordered the London bombing that killed, among the innocent bystanders, both his wife and daughter.
Our Chinaman gets no satisfaction from Scotland Yard, from the newspapers or from his pompous MP. So armed with only the most rudimentary bomb-making ingredients bought in the High Street, a knife and some sweet and sour pork and chicken, he travels to Ulster to turn the woodland into Vietnam jungle and takes on the IRA single-handed. Never has the owner of a Chinese take-away in Clapham been more dangerous.
Of course it is more complicated than that: the London bombers are a rogue unit out of control and the IRA boss is as keen to kill them as the Chinaman is to kill him.
The Chinaman knows about jungle warfare - he has fought in Vietnam for both sides - and the IRA knows about brute force. It also knows about tangled loyalties - or rather disloyalties - undreamed-of by the Chinaman in his simplicity.
Leather writes well enough to make it all believable - which is to say that he writes about seven times better than most churners-out of thrillers - and he plays by the rules of the genre; the Scottish deerstalker brought by the IRA top brass to catch the Chinaman is young, female and pretty.
He fleshes out his minor characters more than many authors do their major players. He is a former newspaper journalist (for the Daily Mail among several others) and his vignette of the unreformed drunken and incompetent hack, fouling up in true, glorious, irredeemable style in the last pages withthe ultimate in all irredeemable fouls-up, will strike a chord with many old Fleet Street hands.
Some of the IRA men are sympathetically drawn; others are not, but they all ring true, too.
Eventually the Chinaman sparks off infinitely more than he is aware of, which in turn gives the book a totally unex[pected ending that will leave you breathless. Read it, and you will never again feel quite the same about your friendly neighbourhood Chinese takeaway." - Julian Champkin, Daily Mail
"Plenty of visceral excitements" - The Guardian
"A gripping story sped along by admirable, uncluttered prose" - Daily Telegraph