Review of Never Enough by Joe McGinniss -- Sparely Describing The Kissel Family "Milkshake Murder"
Never Enough by Joe McGinniss (Simon & Shuster 2007).
The worst person in this book is not the killer, who drugged her husband, bashed in his skull, wrapped him in a carpet and, two days later, asked handymen to haul the festering cheroot down to the storeroom.
The worst person in this book is not the victim’s brother, who defrauded his partners, clients and neighbors of millions of dollars through lies, forgery and theft.
Incredibly, the worst person in this book is the victim’s father, a wealthy man by the name of Bill Kissel, who invented a key component of toner cartridges but, as described in Never Enough by true crime guru Joe McGinniss, combines repulsive snobbery with a ruthless need to control people.
With such a monster of a father, it’s not surprising that brothers Rob and Andrew Kissel grew up and made some terrible decisions, and Never Enough describes the ramifications of their worst choices.
Andrew appeared to be a rat from the start. He faked his academic credentials and worked for a series of shady real estate companies, before striking out on his own with investment partnerships from which he embezzled. On the side, he stole from the co-op board of which he was the treasurer.
But Never Enough is not the story of Andrew; it’s the story of his brother, Rob Kissel, a whiz with numbers who made his name on Wall Street as an expert in the field of distressed debt. Rob would identify firms on the brink of bankruptcy and, if they were salvageable, obtain a controlling interest, put the company back into shape, and sell it at a profit.
But he didn’t perform sufficient due diligence before he married his wife, Nancy, a spoiled princess who became more materialistic as Rob became more successful. When the couple moved to Hong Kong in 1997 so that Rob could make money off the Pacific Rim, Nancy’s behavior bloated into a spastic dervish of consumption. According to McGinniss, Nancy shopped compulsively, turned her nose up at Chinese people and culture, and sheltered herself in a luxurious expat development called Parkview (although Nancy was upset to discover that she did not live in the most prestigious tower).
Nancy often flew back to the family’s cottage in Vermont, where she had a passionate affair with a handyman. Rob, suspicious, gathered evidence of the infidelity and prepared to sue for divorce. But, for a woman as shallow and status-conscious as Nancy, divorce and its social diminishment were unthinkable.
Which is why, according to Hong Kong police, Nancy Kissel served her husband a strawberry milkshake laced with five prescription drugs on November 2, 2003. After he was incapacitated, she lifted a heavy statuette of two girls and used it to beat her husband on the head until his skull cracked and brain matter fell out. She let the body rot in her bedroom for two days – ordering the maid to buy multiple bottles of peppermint oil – and wrapped it in a rug. Finally, she had two of the Chinese handymen in her building haul it to a storage unit.
McGinniss writes in a spare style, with a preference for short sentences. He divides his chapters into tiny sections, which keeps the reader turning pages.
The book should have contained an Afterword explaining McGinniss’ research and writing methods. The text contains so many verbatim conversations that McGinniss either reconstructed them with literary license or he had access to tape recordings, and he owed it to the reader to explain what was what. Instead, everything in the book, especially the details of the Kissels’ warped domestic life, has to be taken with skepticism.
Which is a shame, because Never Enough is a fascinating account of soulless people. Rob is so driven monetarily – he believed earning $10 million a year was failure if a colleague down the hall earned $20 million – that you wonder what emptiness he was trying to fill. Nancy, well, everyone knows a Nancy or two, an attractive woman who believes she can recklessly indulge her appetites without jeopardizing her position in life (which is actually her husband’s position, not that she comprehends the distinction). And fraudster brother Andrew got what was coming to him.
But the dad seems to be the root and stem of the problems. In one stomach-turning passage, Bill Kissel, determined to control the custody of his now-orphaned grandchildren, threatened to make false accusations of molestation if a relative challenged him in court.
For a book packed with vile bodies, the minor character of Bill Kissel is the most repulsive. In this crowd, that’s an accomplishment.
Pictured: Although Nancy Kissel took pains to highlight her natural beauty with expensively colored blond hair, she choose to look meek and ordinary while on trial. The jury convicted her, but her life sentence was vacated this month due to evidentiary issues. She will be re-tried.