It is a bad sign when an author writes, as Mark Coakley does a little more than halfway through Tip and Trade, that his subject matter is “not the most action-packed to write about.” If that’s true, imagine how readers feel.
Coakley’s book covers the life and crimes of Toronto-area lawyers Gil Cornblum and Stan Grmovsek, both of whom attended York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in the early 1990s, at the same time as the author. Their paths crossed in the offices of Obiter Dicta, Osgoode’s student newspaper. Coakley’s accounts of this period are not the best advertisement for law school or, indeed, the entire legal profession. The excerpts Coakley provides of Cornblum and Grmovsek’s writing are angry right-wing screeds leavened with jokes that even Ann Coulter would consider poorly executed. And Coakley recounts an in-class encounter between Grmovsek and Michael Bryant, the former Ontario attorney general, that says a great deal about both men, none of it terribly flattering.
Perhaps because of his personal involvement with the two students, Coakley seems as interested in the formative stages of Cornblum and Grmovsek’s friendship as he is in the actual insider trading scheme that netted the duo more than $10 million. By the time Canadian and American authorities catch up with the crooks, Coakley, who tells the story chronologically, is primarily reduced to reprinting transcripts from court hearings and interviews with investigators. It’s as though the author himself has grown bored of his less than action-packed subject matter.
By the end of the book, there is little doubt that Grmovsek and Cornblum committed crimes, but Coakley constantly tries – and almost always fails – to compare the two men to more infamous corporate fraudsters. (Readers are repeatedly told that Grmovsek’s hero is Conrad Black.)
At the same time, Coakley seems unconvinced that this is an especially important story in the grand scheme of greed-fuelled malfeasance. He notes that while Cornblum and Grmovsek were being investigated by two governments for trading on insider knowledge of a mining company, the very same company was facing charges for dumping millions of litres of toxic waste in Argentina. “Compared to that,” Coakley notes, “are the crimes of Stan and Gil such a big deal?”
The longer the book goes on, the more the reader gets the impression that Coakley himself barely cares about his subject. This apparent lack of interest on the part of the author makes it difficult for readers to invest emotionally or intellectually in this story.