If you’re looking for some easy beach reading this summer, you can’t lose with Philip Slayton’s novel, Bay Street. It’s a fast-paced, Scott Turow-style mystery focused on a law firm that’s at the centre of a brewing insider-trading scandal.
Slayton is a former corporate lawyer who worked at a Bay Street law firm before retiring in 2000. He has written two non-fiction bestsellers about the legal business and is an occasional contributor to Investment Executive‘s Insight section.
In Bay Street, Slayton, a Rhodes scholar and former law school dean, takes readers on a journey through the machinations of a law firm and a major corporate deal – a bank/insurance company merger – gone awry.
But the book really revolves around Jim Watt, the despised and loathed managing partner of Dibbets & Dibbets, a large, cutthroat Bay Street law firm that is disliked by most market participants. Slayton does an excellent job of capturing the essence of lawyers and creating characters to reflect the various personality types that inhabit the profession – although some depictions are a bit over the top.
There are few likable lawyers in this book, which makes the reader question how much Slayton really enjoyed his time on Bay Street. Myself having spent the past 25 years observing and writing about the legal business after law school, I can say that as clichéd as some of the characters and law-firm culture may seem, the traits depicted are exceedingly accurate.
There is Piper Fantouche, the beautiful, upcoming junior partner whom all the men want to bed. Fantouche uses her charm and wile to keep one step ahead of Watt, a sad and pathetic creature who, longing for Fantouche, takes her under his lecherous wing. Watt manages the law firm, which really means he dodges knives tossed at his back by fellow partners. Of course, Fantouche is busy dating an underachieving layabout and having her own internal crises about being a Bay Street lawyer.
Julia Anderson is a married, structured-finance partner who never really did well at the firm after a disastrous affair with a fellow partner. Agatha Hightower is an underappreciated real estate lawyer. Darrell Jones, the regulatory lawyer, thinks he is the smartest guy in the room, while securities lawyer Bill Seldom, Watt’s No. 2, is delusional about his status in the firm. Together, they form the deal team that wants to take over Liberty Insurance on behalf of Canadian Unity Bank (CUB) – despite investment laws that prevent this type of merger.
Arthur Red, CEO of CUB – Dibbets’ biggest client – is the reprehensible capitalist who resembles a throwback to the banking bosses of the 1970s and ’80s. His counterpart, Liberty CEO Brad Nemitz, is the antithesis of Bay Street, and has more moral fibre than most of the book’s other characters combined.
Another character, Sam Capponi, is a left-wing, Harley-riding defence lawyer whom Fantouche looks down on, but then calls upon for legal advice. In an odd twist, Capponi turns out to be a guardian angel, despite representing Hell’s Angels-type clients. Capponi seems to be one of the few good guys in this lot of self- absorbed individuals.
Those who work in financial services will recognize aspects of these characters. There are also lots of inside jokes, such as when Slayton refers to his own best seller, Lawyers Gone Bad, and draws on a lot of incidents that actually have taken place on Bay Street. These include the time a Holden Day Wilson lawyer threw himself against the window of a 24th-floor office to encourage a group of visiting law students to overcome their fears, only to dislodge the window and fall to his death. Yes, that really happened.
The writing is fine, although at times some of the sex references and scenes come off as forced, making it seem as if Bay Street is only about what Slayton describes as “extreme sexual tension.” As well, there are few redeeming qualities among any of the characters, which makes the reader scream for someone who has a moral compass and isn’t there just for the money.
The book has some fun twists and turns and, ultimately, suggests that lawyers aren’t as smart as they think they are – which is often the case. But the book does end with a bang.
by Philip Slayton,
Oblonsky Editions, www.baystreetanovel.com;
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