November 04, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Silky-locked, with jade green eyes, she drapes herself in Dior and dazzles * with diamonds. She survived absentee parents to become the doting (and ever- petite) mother of seven; she endured turbulent marriages only to find true love. She’s a career woman who knows how to accessorize, and she’s real.

The escapades of Danielle Steel, it seems, rival only those of the characters in her chaos-strewn, record-selling romance books. People correspondents Vickie Bane and Lorenzo Benet spent more than a year researching and writing the lives of Danielle Steel: The Unauthorized Biography of America’s #1 Best-Selling Author (St. Martin’s, $22.95), becoming embroiled in a legal battle with their resistant subject and poring through court documents to give us the lowdown. Steel’s second husband is a convicted rapist! Her third husband is a recovering drug addict! Ultimately, of course, the heroine triumphs — and learns to shop along the way.

Steel’s story is a page-turner, and Bane and Benet embellish the tale with the endless details that readers of popular fiction expect: As a grade-schooler, Steel ”wore a navy blazer, white blouse, and dark gray skirt or tailored pants”; as an adult on an extended trip to New York from San Francisco, where she now lives, she reportedly brought 29 pieces of luggage, one for hats. Unfortunately, the authors seem to become enraptured with their own reporting, and halfway through, the book takes on the tone of a master’s thesis. ”Wait a minute!” you think. ”Respect the genre!” And the authors insist on sharing, in their stilted prose, that Steel’s courtship with her second husband, according to him, included ”phone sex … a masturbation sequence,” and naming each other’s sexual organs.

Finally, the book suffers most from the lack of Steel’s voice. Bane and Benet assert that the romance novelist’s books are only semifictionalized stories of her own life, which leads one to believe that it might be best to skip this entirely and try any one of Steel’s novels instead. B-

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