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VERMEER WAS not the most prolific of painters, yet the 17th century Dutch master has inspired no fewer than three recent American novels. Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson is a contemporary story about a plot to steal a Vermeer, while in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier imagines the life of the servant girl who was a model for that particular painting. Finally, Susan Vreeland traces the life of a painting which may or may not be by the Old Master back through the centuries to the moment of conception in Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

VERMEER WAS not the most prolific of painters, yet the 17th century Dutch master has inspired no fewer than three recent American novels. Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson is a contemporary story about a plot to steal a Vermeer, while in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier imagines the life of the servant girl who was a model for that particular painting. Finally, Susan Vreeland traces the life of a painting which may or may not be by the Old Master back through the centuries to the moment of conception in Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

AFTER SUCH important investigations as Sideshow, about the wanton destruction of Cambodia, and The Shah's Last Ride, it seemed that William Shawcross had gone all soft, with his glossy biography of Rupert Murdoch and a recent magazine profile of him and his new wife. But now he's talking tough again, signing with Bloomsbury for a study of the problems of international peacekeeping. Deliver Us from Evil, to be published next spring, will examine the role of "warlords and peacekeepers in a world of conflict" such as we have inhabited since the collapse of Communism, and the coming of what we might call (to rephrase George Bush) a new world disorder.

BIBLIOPHILES WITH money to burn should check out two upcoming auctions. On November 5 at Christie's, the library of Peter Apap Bologna, a Maltese collector, comes under the hammer. Featuring writers from across the 20th century, it includes a complete set of Beryl Bainbridge first editions, estimated to fetch up to £600, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin sequence of naval exploits (up to £7,000), Graham Greene's first novel, Babbling April, published in 1925 (£1,500 plus) and an entire set of Booker winners, estimated to fetch up to £2,000.

At Sotheby's a week later, The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit comes up at auction for the first time. Beatrix Potter wrote the story for the sixth birthday of her publisher's daughter, Louie Warne. The text is accompanied by watercolours, "folded... into a green cloth wallet with a silver clasp." It is expected to fetch around £200,000.

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