By People Staff
July 22, 2002 12:00 PM

By Iain Pears

Braiding together parallel plots of romance and political intrigue set in Provence during three dark eras—the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and World War II—The Dream of Scipio is a murder mystery on the grandest scale.

Yes, barbarians felled Rome, plague devastated the Middle Ages and Nazis exterminated Jews. But Pears (An Instance of the Fingerpost) also investigates how civilizations die by individual acts of evil committed even, or sometimes especially, by the well-meaning. If he sometimes jerks readers from epoch to epoch as if to the tune of an overly frenetic waltz, he also invests his complex story with piquancy, irony and humor. There is much to ponder here, from Neoplatonic philosophy to anti-Semitism to public duty. (Riverhead, $25.95)

Bottom Line: Eye-opening Dream