The ousted book chief, the glamorous City fund manager and a novel act of 'revenge'

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The Independent Culture

The book starts like many others, with a disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction ..." Why, then, are so many people in publishing making a connection between a character in Unfinished Business, the new novel by Terry Maher, former chairman of the Dillons book chain, and Carol Galley, who is said to have engineered his downfall?

Maher's fictional character, Sarah Armstrong, is a glamorous, uncompromising City fund manager with a frightening power to make or break people. She finds herself drawn into a messy legal battle that seriously threatens her reputation. Maher's former adversary, Carol Galley, is ... well, you can probably work the rest out for yourself, once you know the details of Maher's exit from Dillons' parent company, Pentos, in 1993.

Maher was forced out after poor financial results. Galley, as senior fund manager at Mercury Asset Management, the largest shareholder in Pentos, was seen as leading calls for his removal. Maher said he felt "stunned and betrayed" and attacked fund managers generally for their "obsessive, homogenous short-termism".

The author, aware of libel, insists the personality of the character is "an amalgam of people like Carol Galley and Nicola Horlick". Like those women, "Sarah Armstrong is steely, she is glamorous, she is a person who likes designer clothes, visits to Michaeljohn [a hair salon] twice a week, and is very concerned with how she presents herself," said Maher.

Armstrong is accused of being involved in a financial scandal. Although different to the character, Galley also had her problems, calling in her lawyers when her firm was accused of mishandling Unilever's pension fund.

So is Maher's book an act of revenge? "You may say that, others may say that," he said. "But I am not getting back at anyone at all. Most people will find my Sarah Armstrong character a sympathetic figure. I did not find Carol Galley sympathetic, because I did not know her."