A Novel of Simon Peter -- so runs the sub title of this panoramic novel covering the Roman world and paralleling the period of the Gospel story, the Acts and the Epistles. It would take close familiarity with the latter to identify sources of some of the material, but for many readers this dramatic story of the simple fisherman who became Christ's chosen ""rock""-on which would be built his church, will take them back to rereading the New Testament. Oddly enough, the first third of the text, which parallels the Gospels, conveys a sense of complexity, almost of confusion, as the author traces the wanderings to and fro over Palestine, injecting familiar incidents, telescoping some of the miracles, locating events with a kind of finality that raises questions of fact. But the main body of the story, following Peter's mission over the then known Roman world of Claudius and Nero has body and substance and reality that the first- and more familiar part- lacks. Peter emerges as a tower of strength, firm in his faith, only too well aware of the temptations to which he feels himself prone. The jealousies and squabbling among the inheritors of the Word, the straying from the path laid down, the difficulties of interpretation, the heresies -- all come out in a telling picture of a degenerating Rome fighting the growing strength of the Christian message.