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The Sorcerer's Apprentice by John Richardson (Pimlico, £12.50, 320pp) Having attained the half-way point in his four-volume biography of Picasso, Richardson has conjured up this gossipy, autobiographical entr'acte. It centres on the dubious figure of Douglas Cooper, a leading collector of Picasso's work and toady to the artist. In 1949, Cooper whisked the handsome young Richardson from a London party in a wasp-coloured Rolls-Royce and the pair spent 12 rackety years together, mainly in a vast, colonnaded Provence chateau called Castille.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by John Richardson (Pimlico, £12.50, 320pp) Having attained the half-way point in his four-volume biography of Picasso, Richardson has conjured up this gossipy, autobiographical entr'acte. It centres on the dubious figure of Douglas Cooper, a leading collector of Picasso's work and toady to the artist. In 1949, Cooper whisked the handsome young Richardson from a London party in a wasp-coloured Rolls-Royce and the pair spent 12 rackety years together, mainly in a vast, colonnaded Provence chateau called Castille.

Richardson spices his yarn with candid sketches of the art world's sacred monsters. "Did I blackmail him?" mused Francis Bacon about a relative of Cooper. "I don't think I did." The "supremely Machiavellian" Anthony Blunt revealed the Queen's technique for answering awkward questions about works in Royal collections. "Since she seldom remembered," she "always had the same recourse... she would say 'Dutch' and move rapidly on."

Cooper emerges as a mercurial and vituperative figure, generous and spiteful by turns. At the coronation in 1953, he wangled seats opposite Westminster Abbey and booed "loud as he could" when Elizabeth arrived. The most significant consequence of Cooper's Anglophobia was that he bequeathed his collection of cubist Picassos to the Musée Picasso in Paris despite hinting that they would go to the Tate.

When it came, the lovers' bust-up was acrimonious, with long squabbling over art-works. For a candid view of the art world's aristocrats, and their not infrequent brushes with madness and criminality, this hilarious, irresistible book could hardly be bettered.

Francis Ford Coppola by Michael Schumacher (Bloomsbury, £9.99, 536pp) This detailed account is hamstrung by the parabolic career of its subject. Schumacher's disclosures range from the mooning competition among Godfather stars (Brando won when he revealed his rear during the epic wedding scene) to Coppola's response when Martin Sheen suffered a heart-attack during Apocalypse Now: "He's not dead until I say he's dead." As for his indifferent output following the trio of early early masterpieces, Coppola admits the real problem: "I'm a sloppy film-maker."

Faber Book of Utopias by John Carey (Faber, £9.99, 531pp) Even this master anthologist cannot weave much of interest from such an arid topic. Though his introductions are typically provocative ("Hitler was a pioneer of the green movement"), there are too many hectoring manifestos and tedious visions of perfection. It is, however, pleasing to discover that "vril", a magical panacea imagined by Bulwer Lytton in 1873, was incorporated in the brand name Bovril. The inclusion of Sade and Orwell is odd. He should have saved them for the Faber Book of Dystopias.

A Closed Book by Gilbert Adair (Faber, £6.99, 258pp) Tony Blair has Aids, Princess Di has been sighted in Bhutan, and the world's favourite computer is the Big Mac - just some of the snippets of misinformation passed on to a crotchety blind novelist by his seemingly meek assistant. Closeted away together in a damp cottage in the Cotwolds, one dictates as the other types, each man confusing the other with a smoke screen of half lies and academic posturing. A little on the dry side, Adair's wordy brain-teaser comes into its own with a shocking eleventh-hour twist (or two).

Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel (Abacus, £6.99, 310pp) The comedian's second novel opens with the world in mourning for Princess Diana, and a bloke in Sydenham Hill looking for a shag. Vic finds one with his best-friend's wife (who mistakes his hay-fever bleariness for tears), and their happy and glorious union continues until tragedy of a more local kind intervenes. Readable, gabby pontificating about Nineties relationships, as Baddiel's men ponder on death and sex, and the possible invention of a device to carry urine down a condom, into a straw, and out into a bedside potty.

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