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Edward Whittemore: Jerusalem Poker

This, the second in the tetralogy, follows on from where Sinai Tapestry left off but it isn’t nearly as good. Most of the cast of the characters is the same. Just in case we forgot the first part, Whittemore keeps re-introducing chunks from it, which may be fine if you read the first one five years previously but not if you read it a week previously. The premise of the story is that the three main characters – O’Sullivan Beare, the erstwhile freedom fighter from Book 1 and two new characters, Cairo Martyr, a giant black African who makes his living from selling the remains of Egyptian mummies from a cache he found while having violent sex with an Italian tourist and who wants to steal the Kabaa from Mecca and bury it in Africa to get his revenge for the Arab treatment of Africans and Munk Szondi, a former officer and spy for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the House of Szondi, a banking syndicate run entirely by a group of women called the Sarahs (the men of the family, till the arrival of Munk, are merely for providing musical entertainment) and now an ardent Zionist – are playing a poker game.

The game lasts for twelve years, with various itinerant players dropping in and out. The ultimate bet is for control of Jerusalem, Beare controlling the Christian quarter, Cairo the Muslim quarter and Szondi the Jewish quarter with the Armenian quarter going by default to the winner. With Zionists popping up all over the place – even the Japanese have Zionists – it is not difficult to guess who is going to win. And maybe that is the fault with this book. It is just too predictable. Yes, there are some more fun bits but, very soon, you start to wonder where the book is going. The other major character, Nubar Wallenstein, paranoid master of a spy empire, mercury addict and would-be alchemist, is neither interesting nor amusing; indeed, his rantings are pitifully painful. If this is satire on spymasters, it really doesn’t work. Maybe he should just have stopped at Sinai Tapestry.

Publishing history

First published 1978 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston