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A Handful of Kings: A Novel Hardcover – February 3, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A female American diplomat is sucked into a terrorist plot and a famous novelist is forced to look hard at his values and beliefs in this second novel by Jacobs, a former foreign service officer and acclaimed short story writer (The Liberation of Little Heaven; Stone Cowboy). Set in Spain and Colombia, the novel is a suspense tale in the tradition of Graham Greene, though it lacks the force and finesse of Greene's work. Vicky Sorrell is ready to quit her job as a cultural attach‚ at the American Embassy in Madrid when writer Jack Baines arrives and disrupts her plans. Jack's nephew has been kidnapped in Bogota, part of a plot by a smart, ugly rebel leader called Badger to embarrass America into withdrawing from Colombia, and Baines has been instructed by the kidnappers to put pressure on American officials. The trouble is that Baines is not very believable-either as the kind of bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist who might have political influence (he comes across as a second-rate Robert Stone) or as a possible lover who might tempt a sharp, disillusioned woman like Vicky. And despite Jacobs's skill at bringing Spain and its diplomatic circles to life, there's a mustiness to the setting that makes it seem light-years from today's headlines.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Just when Vicky Sorrell decides to walk away from her lover as well as her career in the U.S. Diplomatic Service, she is drawn into a serpentine terrorist plot involving a plan to abduct Americans (mostly high-level government workers) and hold them hostage until the U.S. leaves Colombia. Although the novel begins slowly, it soon revs into high gear as Jacobs deftly moves from the machinations of a South American guerrilla leader to a posh party for Spain's wealthiest citizens to the kidnapping of the teenage nephew of an American novelist currently in Madrid. Vicky is forced to make difficult decisions in a world of smoke and mirrors, where motives are well camouflaged and trust is a precious commodity. Jacobs, a former foreign service officer and author of Stone Cowboy (1999), knows the emotional and psychological territory of terrorism. He does a nice job of conveying the effects of American hegemony on men and women desperate to determine their own fates rather than having them imposed by a superpower. Nancy Pearl
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743245903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743245906
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,211,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In A Handful of Kings, Mark Jacobs combines a taut thriller plot with a love story, and fleshes it out with a wealth of detail about Spain and the American Foreign Service. I was engaged by the three-dimensional characters and caught up in the action as the story unfolded.
Living in Madrid, I was doubly delighted to see this city feature so prominently in the novel (even though the action takes place also in Colombia and the United States). As Jacobs writes about an encounter in Madrid's El Retiro Park, for example, I could picture the scene vividly in my mind. He also does a great job of capturing the intangible things that make Madrid Madrid, even down to the Ducados cigarette smoke filling up one's favorite Spanish bar. Jacobs, who was a former Foreign Service Officer, does a wonderful job of opening a window onto the environment of a U.S. embassy and the people who run it for the general reader.
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By A Customer on February 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Thirty-three years old Vicky Sorrel, disenchanted with the State department, believes it is time to start over. She plans to quit her job as a cultural attaché assigned to the American Embassy in Spain. Vicky also informs her lover Wyatt Willis that she is leaving him behind. When it comes to her job, everyone wishes her the best. When it comes to her lover, he puts on a public show accusing her of betrayal to their eternal love.
Easily ignoring Wyatt, who added layers of skepticism to the cynical Vicky, she continues to shut down her life in Spain until her plans are disrupted when popular American author Jack Baines asks for help. The Columbia rebel Badger, in an attempt to embarrass the United States, has kidnapped Jack's nephew. Vicky has doubts about Jack's story, but agrees to help him, not realizing what she is getting into.
Though exciting as a thriller and insightful in terms of Spain and embassy life overseas, A HANDFUL OF KINGS seems a bit short of royalty. The story line moves quickly and the Foreign Service is interesting to watch in action. Vicky is a former optimist, a believer in the American way, but her work has converted her into a delightful doubting Thomasina. The weak link to an otherwise fine tale is Jack, who at times acts like a lone STONE COWBOY and just seems no where near Vicky's level. Still Mark Jacobs provides a solid thriller with a shot of romance that will please suspense fans wondering what is really going on.
Harriet Klausner
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Jacobs paints the disparate characters in this, his second and best novel, with the broad impressionistic brush strokes of a writer who loves language. When the players in this novel are thrown together by design or by fate and begin to ricochet off of each other with increasing speed, Jacobs' magical word pictures will recall for many readers the verbal mastery of Graham Greene.
Jacobs depicts with the clarity of one who has been there, the inner conflict of the young female foreign service officer, who is fed up with government bureaucracy yet still drawn to the addictive drama of living as a stranger in a strange land.
The pathetic preening of Jack, the "famous" author calls to mind a number of Greene's most vulnerable and flawed characters.
The plot moves slowly at the outset as the characters are drawn and given their places on a broad international stage. The pace picks up quickly, however, as this thoughtful character driven novel morphs into a page turning spy thriller, without ever sacrificing the beautiful language that is the hallmark of this talented author.
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By A Customer on March 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Not only is this a page-turning tale, but you could wander through many bookstore aisles before matching the quality and imaginative language found in "A Handful of Kings." My only criticism is that the driving impulse to get on with the story was inhibited by the contradictory need to slow down and savor the robust writing. The settings and locales are authentic and convincing, . The carefully woven suspense-inducing strands of narrative eventually are drawn together in a startling climax. The world of international espionage bursts from the page in explosive colors. One might hope that Vicky would return in future works, with or without Jack and Wyatt. Whatever...just keep 'em coming.
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