March 02, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

— Knopf Out Alfred A. Knopf may be feeling a little light these days: HarperCollins has just made off with Michael Crichton, the venerable publisher’s heaviest hitter and a mainstay at the house ever since The Andromeda Strain hit the best-seller lists in 1969. ”Michael had been restless for a while,” says his agent, Lynn Nesbit, who engineered the reported $30 million-plus, two-book deal, which also happens to reunite Crichton with Jane Friedman, the Knopf veteran who is now Harper’s president and CEO. ”Michael has been built beautifully at Knopf,” says Friedman. ”But I think we can [take him] even higher.”

— Yale Call Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, author of a slew of serious nonfiction books (including The Culture of Disbelief and Civility), has just scored a virtually unheard-of deal for a new novelist — $4 million for two books. The first, a legal thriller called The Emperor of Ocean Park, revolves around an African-American judge and his family. Knopf beat sister imprint Random House, which also bid $4 million, in a ”beauty contest” for the rights. ”It’s very positionable,” says an editor at a house that dropped out of the bidding. ”There aren’t many African-American suspense writers, and there aren’t a lot of books published about the world of the black elite.”

— Combs Over As if Sean ”Puffy” Combs hasn’t seen enough of courtrooms lately, the rap impresario/weapon-possession-charges defendant is suing writer Mikal Gilmore, who Combs says contracted to cowrite his autobiography for $325,000 and then failed to start work on it. ”Despite repeated attempts to obtain his cooperation, Mr. Gilmore failed to honor his contractual commitments,” a spokesperson for Combs said in a statement. ”Mr. Combs is simply seeking the return of all monies that have been paid.” The book, intended for Ballantine, was canceled early last year because of nondelivery. Gilmore, author of the acclaimed memoir Shot in the Heart, did not return a call to his office.

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