When Jackie Collins' debut novel was published in 1968, the romance writer Barbara Cartland branded it "nasty, filthy and disgusting". The World Is Full of Married Men delved into the sexually charged affairs of beautiful young things who sashayed, swaggered and slept their way around the Hollywood hills. Four decades and 26 bestsellers later, readers may well wonder if, at 72, Collins still has what it takes to be nasty, filthy and disgusting.
Turn to the first page of Poor Little Bitch Girl and you find that age has not mellowed nor sanitised her prose: "Belle Svetlana surveyed her nude image in a full-length mirror, readying herself for a $30,000-an-hour sexual encounter with the 15-year-old son of an Arab oil tycoon." Whether you read the book with a straight face or enjoy its tongue-in-cheek subtext, Collins remains mistress of her own genre of Hollywood bonkbuster-cum-crime thriller.
In her latest yarn the reader is returned to the Santangelos, whose family tree began with Gino (the criminal son of Italian migrants) in the 1981 novel Chances and spawned a series. Belle Svetlana turns out to be an sobriquet for Annabelle Maestro, the alienated daughter of A-list actors whose mammoth egos run her out of Tinseltown until she is forced back when her mother is found dead. Denver Jones, a defence lawyer and surf-tanned sexual adventurer, is parachuted in to solve the crime.
Like Harold Robbins, Collins makes little attempt at realism beyond passing references to celebrity crimes and misdemeanours – Phil Spector, O J Simpson – and renegade starlets – Britney, Lindsay, even Amy Winehouse. At times her characters could have stepped out of Dynasty, but perhaps Collins is suggesting that the lives of the super-rich are frozen in a perpetual state of big-haired conspicuous consumption.
And then there are Collins' alpha-females. Wilful, libidinous and wonderfully predatory, they lack the urban neurosis of Candace Bushnell's New York clique, or the self-loathing babblings of Bridget Jones. Barbara Cartland would still be scandalised.