Length: 420 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A casual observer saw The Chinaman as little more than the owner of a small Chinese takeaway business in South London. That was the life he’d chosen when he was finally able to put behind him his years as a jungle-skilled, lethal assassin who had fought for the Viet Cong and the Americans. He had already watched two of his daughters being raped and killed by Thai pirates. So the hardworking, quiet life suited him, his wife, and only remaining daughter.
When his wife and daughter are murdered in an IRA bombing, he does what any law-abiding citizen would do – reaches out to the authorities. But he’s shunned by everyone he approaches, labeled a nuisance. That’s when The Chinaman realizes that his days of war aren’t truly behind him. And this time, he’s fighting for revenge.
The bottom line:
A hard-hitting, emotional, violent story that is much more than what its title suggests.
The first thing to know about The Chinaman is that it is intensely emotional, especially during the backstory of the titular character. But it is equally hard-hitting during scenes where other characters interact. You really feel for the characters because everyone has something going on beyond what the world within the book sees, and their constant turmoil is beautifully displayed.
The second thing to know about it is that it is extremely violent. There are moments when you just cannot accept the horrifying scenes unfolding in front of you as you read, and are yet are compelled to move ahead. There is no sugar-coating on death. It is displayed in all its ugliness, and in its raw, heart-wrenching honesty.
The story itself is much more than what the title claims. While the Chinaman is an integral part of it – the one who ties everything together – there is a lot more going on. A lot of people play pivotal roles in the development of the story, making it much more than a simple tale of revenge. It is built on the foundation of a political issue, but avoids being typical in its delivery when venturing into the political aspects. There is always something happening and it keeps you turning the pages.
Stephen Leather’s style is refreshing. It is strong and raw. It does not shy away from depicting the horrors of life and death. And he creates strong characters who, through their strengths, weaknesses, and flaws, are incredibly human. It is also extremely detailed, delving into the real technical aspects of skills possessed by the characters. Also, the book comes with a good amount of twists you don’t see coming.
There are only two things I thought could have been done differently. The first is the amount of detail at every step – that could have been reduced. I loved reading about the Chinaman’s skill, but it did get a bit monotonous after a while. I mean, I don’t have to know every step taken to make every single bomb. The second is the reactions that some of the characters had at certain moments. They seemed highly absurd and although these were explained at a later point, I still think that they could have been handled better. These few problems did reduce the overall quality of the reading experience for me.
What I like most about the book is that it isn’t black and white. It is various shades of gray where antagonists seem to have a good side, and protagonists carry out the most heinous of acts. And yet, they all seem to do what their lives force them to do, forever burdened or comfortable with their own actions.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Chinaman, and Stephen Leather’s style. I’m definitely going to be adding him to my list of authors to follow. I’d recommend the book to:
- all readers who enjoy fiction
- thriller and mystery fans
I read The Chinaman when I did because of the movie inspired by it and that was to hit the cinema sometime now. While I’m still not sure if it’s going to be screened at any cinema in my city (which is terribly upsetting because I would have loved to see the adaptation), I’m still glad it gave me an opportunity to discover Stephen Leather.
Read The Chinaman? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below.