The Chinaman (novel)

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The Chinaman
The Chinaman (Stephen Leather novel).jpg
First edition
AuthorStephen Leather
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Publication date
Media typePrint
Preceded byHungry Ghost 
Followed byThe Vets 

The Chinaman is a thriller novel written by Stephen Leather, first published in 1992. It is Leather's fourth novel and was adapted into a film, starring Jackie Chan, titled The Foreigner, released in 2017.

The plot concerns a Vietnamese London restaurateur and skilled Vietnam War veteran who travels to Ireland to hunt the people responsible for a bombing that killed his family.[1][2][3]


Nguyen Ngoc Minh is a Vietnamese London restaurateur, and Vietnam war veteran who was trained as an assassin by both the Viet Cong and the US Army. One day he loses both his wife and daughter in a bombing by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He seeks justice, first by going to London Chief Inspector Richard Bromley, but is rebuffed.

In the meantime, a rogue cell of IRA continues to commit the bombings throughout London. Ian "Woody" Wood is a freelance journalist, who was on the incident after the bombings, is asked to investigate the IRA. He is approached by the desperate Nguyen, who offers a money reward for the names of the bombers. Woody, who does not have enough information, suggests that Nguyen talk to Sinn Fein member and former IRA operator, Liam Hennessey. Meanwhile, Bromley continues investigating the bombings occurring around London. Nguyen, determined on getting the names, sells his restaurant to his best friend and decides to travel to Belfast to talk to Hennessey.

Hennessey decides to have his former weapon dumps investigated, believing the rogue cell is using Semtex from those dumps to create the explosives.

Nguyen buys chemicals, camping utilities and a combat weapons, which reminds him of the time of the war. He travels to Belfast and confronts Henessey for the names but is turned down, prompting Nguyen to set off a homemade bomb in the bathroom of Hennessey's office. By phone Nguyen threatens further reprisals if he is not given the names of the bombers.

Hennessey, secretly having ordered the bombings to boost his political needs, is in fact enraged that civilians were killed and that the bombings came without warnings. He contacts his associate in the United States, Sean Morrison, to come to London and talk to Bromley about a plan to take down the bombers. Morrison meets Bromley in London and tells him about their plan, of which only the two of them will harbor knowledge.

Nguyen decides to take the fight to Hennessey, by setting off bombs on his farm prompting him to send his wife Mary, who is secretly having an affair with Morrisson, to London and send his men after Nguyen, who is positioned in the forest nearby. Nguyen, lethally skilled in jungle warfare, disables Hennessey's men with traps and fighting them off before escaping into the forest.

When another bombing occurs, Hennessey's plan fails to pin the bombers. Elsewhere, Woody forms a relationship with a woman named Maggie, who is secretly part of the cell and the relationship is a ruse to plan the next bombing, in which planning a bomb on a royal flight which Woody is boarding for a press conference, while deciding to publish his story about his meeting with The Chinaman.

Desperate to put an end to Nguyen, Hennessey hires a tracker, who is the daughter of a close friend and former IRA associate. Hennessey discovers that the person behind the bombings is his political enforcer Hugh McGarth and discover Morrison and Mary's affair, deducing that Mary and McGarth were responsible for the rogue cell, but decides to let Morrison off the hook to help in hunting down Nguyen.

The rogue cell members successfully plant the bomb in the form of a laptop which is given to Woody by Maggie.

Morrison and Hennessey interrogate McGarth for the names of the bombers, before executing him. In flashback, the story reveals that Nguyen fought for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War before joining the United States Army, which trained him in unarmed combat and jungle warfare. He was refused asylum in America before deciding to escape to Hong Kong, witnessing his eldest daughters raped and killed by Thai pirates.

Morrison, the tracker, and Hennesey's right-hand man, Kavanagh, begin the hunt for Nguyen. The manhunt concludes with the death of Kavanagh and three other enforcers at the hands of Nguyen, and a confrontation between the latter and Morrison, which ends with Morrison giving the names of the bombers to Nguyen.

In London, Bromley is relayed the names and location of the bombers by Hennessey. A Special Air Service (SAS) team led by The Colonel and an operative codenamed Joker converge on the building in which the bombers are residing. Nguyen manages to enter first disguised as a delivery man and armed with a replica of an AK-47 rifle. As the SAS team positions itself in the building, Nguyen arrives at the apartment and ambushes the bombers after Maggie fails to warn them after reading about him from Woody's story. At the airport, Woody boards the plane with the bomb in his case, unbeknownst to him. The SAS team bursts into the apartment and guns down everyone, including Nguyen, though not Maggie. They fail to stop the bomb in time, which detonates, killing Woody and everyone aboard. Bromley, wanting no loose ends, has Maggie executed.

During a meeting about taking down the IRA, Hennessey and Morrison's names are brought up. Bromley decides not to mention Nguyen, knowing the life and death of the Chinaman will always be a mystery.


Leather wrote the novel while working as night news editor on the business desk of The Times in London. At the time, the Provisional Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign was at its height.[citation needed]

Film adaptation[edit]

On 5 June 2015, it was announced that Jackie Chan would star in the action thriller film The Foreigner, based on the novel.[4] Directed by Martin Campbell, the film also stars Pierce Brosnan, and was distributed by STX Entertainment.


  1. ^ "The Chinaman". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  2. ^ "The Chinaman". Amazon. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  3. ^ "Bookseller 100". The Bookseller. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  4. ^ Busch, Anita; Fleming Jr, Mike (June 5, 2015). "Jackie Chan To Star in 'The Foreigner' for STX Entertainment". Retrieved July 16, 2015.

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