This bright, bouncy first novel takes an old situation--gamblers congregating for a wide-open high-stakes poker game--and creates an upbeat 1980's sort of Canterbury Tales. The author begins by dealing himself a full house of characters: the young actor Jerry, who dresses as a woman for the edge it gives him, and because he can't get another role; Lee Sherman Tobias, more dead than alive, but still the best on any given hand; Shayna, needler of the vulnerable, herself insecure; Arthur, Nob Hill millionaire, husband of a movie star, kind and decent and talented. Psychological portraits are Abell's forte, spiced with kinks and quirks that keep the narrative clear of mind-fogging card games. For the first 100 pages the writing is deft, funny and deadpan. As each player reaches the point of elimination from the tournament (""tap city""), he or she has an epiphany that somehow makes the loss all right. The remaining nine players are so well-matched in poker-playing and human-interest that the novel seems guaranteed a satisfying ending--which is why it comes as such a disappointment when the author has the young actor in women's clothing doff his wig â€¦ la the movie Tootsie. After this fatal misdeal, the tournament staggers through a series of ""happy talk"" anticlimaxes to a draw between the final two players. If nothing else, the book illustrates how even an unbeatable hand can come out a loser. But despite an ending that betrays the author's loss of nerve, Tap City is a likable novel of the world of poker as it is played by professionals and dreamers alike; its high-spiritedness is remarkable, as is the absence of any crime, violence, sex or ""bad"" characters--particularly for a book that takes place in a casino.