‘The Power Trip’ or: Jackie Collins, escape artist

Jackie Collins is one of those master popular entertainers whose worst critics have never read her.

A great storyteller who really knows the world she writes about, Collins has been spinning un-putdownable yarns for more than 40 years.

The rich and the famous have such unlimited access to public relations that we almost never get the real story. That’s where Collins has come in with a series of bestsellers that have taken us behind the scenes in show business, politics and the criminal underworld.

Collins’ books usually include a few thinly disguised stand-ins for actual celebrities, ranging in recent books from George Clooney to Ricky Martin, but what gives her stuff real punch is the broader overview of the nearly limitless power that comes with fame and — in the case of her sexy crooks — lots of money.

The writer is often lumped with Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and other bestselling novelists who have written about show business, but the thing that separates Collins from that pack is her wicked sense of humor. For every sex act in a Jackie Collins novel, there are at least one or two good laughs (sometimes the sex scenes are funny, too, which is as it should be).

The just-published “The Power Trip” (St. Martin’s Press) is another breathless page-turner, reminiscent of “The Last of Sheila,” the wonderful 1974 movie Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins wrote about Hollywood types on an ill-fated cruise.

A billionaire Russian oligarch named Aleksandr Kasianenko builds a deluxe yacht in honor of his supermodel girlfriend, Bianca, and to impress her invites a gathering of show biz, political and sports celebrities on the maiden cruise in the Sea of Cortez.

The guests include a senator who could be the next president of the United States (if he keeps his raging libido in check), a male movie star pushing 50 who worries that his “sexiest man alive” days are coming to an end, a British soccer star and his social-climbing wife, a Latin singing superstar and his prissy English boyfriend, and a rugged journalist in the Sebastian Junger mold.

Collins spends about 100 pages setting up her cast of characters and then sends them out to sea, where they get into all manner of new shenanigans.

Meanwhile, we learn that a gang of Somali pirates is on its way with a contract on the Russian billionaire from one of his old enemies.

Collins keeps an amazing number of balls in the air for more than 500 pages and then delivers a completely satisfying ending. It’s a great escape.

Joe Meyers