However much one may have admired the inventive flair and narrative verve of Whittemore's 1977 historical merry-go-round, Sinai Tapestry, it's not easy to extend an enthusiastic welcome to this long sequel, especially when informed that it's but #2 in a projected ""Jerusalem Quartet."" Not that Whittemore's imagination has waned. His central image here is vividly, existentially fanciful: three Mediterranean mega-moguls--a Polish-Zionist count, a black Arab mummy-dust tycoon, and Irish fugitive-pornographer O'Sullivan Beare--are playing poker in a Jerusalem antiquities shop to decide who'll have total control of the Holy City, and the game (with other moguls occasionally sitting in long enough to lose) will last from 1921 to 1933. This international trio, of course, boasts a trio of charmingly bizarre backgrounds, each of which is somehow linked to the hero of Sinai Tapestry--Plantagenet Strongbow, owner of the Ottoman Empire and author of the 33-volume Levantine Sex. Busy histories. Not to mention Haj Harun, the 3000-year-old sage with an oft-remembered sex life and a secret time-cellar containing still-violent medieval Freemason Crusaders; or Nubar Wallenstein, the degenerate, Jew-hating mercury addict who uses his Uranist Intelligence Agency to try to destroy the poker game and find the real, blasphemous Sinai Bible that his grandfather buried (in Sinai Tapestry). No, Whittemore's not short on notions, and his balletic prose remains muscular, quicksilver, and capable of surprise spots of laughter and poignancy. But, while the much shorter Tapestry swirled an immense cast through 100 kaleidoscopic years, leaving one dazzled and bemused with unexplained paradoxes and unlabored resonances, Poker heavily replows the same or similar territories without any deeper emotional harvest. Lightfingered sonatas can be shiny and tricky and indirect in attack; massive quartets had better endear (like Scott's Raj) or perplex (like Durrell's Alexandria). Whittemore's third and fourth installments will have to change a lot of gears to regain the ground lost in this lively but ultimately lifeless fantasia.