February 03, 1997 12:00 PM

by Jackie Collins

Embarrassing to pick up, impossible to put down. That’s how a critic once pegged the fiction of actress Joan’s younger sister. The former is true enough; the latter depends on the Collins novel in question. The last few, notably Hollywood Kids and American Star, read as though Collins were (car) phoning them in. But with Vendetta, the fourth installment of the Santangelo saga, the woman once described as the Proust of Hollywood is back in form.

Of course, we’re talking in relative terms here. Subtlety and character development aren’t mother’s milk to Collins, and her prose—well, just think blunt instrument. But maybe this is all beside the point. Vendetta, like the best of the author’s work, has gusto and a cheery, bristling vulgarity.

Comfortably ensconced as the head of Panther Studio, all set for a rendezvous with her actor husband Lenny, who’s on location in Italy, Lucky has the world on a string—or so she thinks. She doesn’t figure on the poisonous plotting of longtime enemy Donatella Bonnatti. There are subplots involving Lucky’s best friend, Venus Maria, a rock singer-actress who comes off like Madonna; a Venus-obsessed fan and Lucky’s beautiful stepdaughter Brigette, a model wannabe. It’s a miniseries waiting to happen. (ReganBooks, $26)

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