Crime novelist sued for setting plot around Paris landmarkLalie Walker wrote latest thriller as a tribute to a Montmartre fabric store, but store’s owners say the book is defamatory
Lizzy Davies, Paris
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 March 2010 18.28 GMT
When Lalie Walker set about using the Marché Saint Pierre as the setting for her latest crime thriller she thought she was paying a nostalgic tribute to a much-loved Parisian landmark.
But, after reading her tale of a crazed killer who sews fear and loathing among the rolls of taffeta, the owners of the much-loved Montmartre fabric store have signalled that they do not appreciate her gesture.
Arguing that certain passages in her fictional depiction of a business rocked by threats, voodoo and staff abductions are defamatory, they are taking her to court and demanding €2m (£1.8m) in damages.
Walker, the author of several crime novels set in the French capital, said she was “flabbergasted” by the lawsuit, expected to come to court next month. “In no way is this a thriller which is ‘anti’ the Marché Saint Pierre. I wrote the novel from an affectionate point of view,” she said.
But Village d’Orsel, the business which runs the Marché Saint Pierre, insists that the book – Aux Malheurs des Dames, a play on an Emile Zola novel set in Paris’s 19th-century department stores – tarnishes its image. For more than 60 years the multi-storey shop has provided customers with a wealth of materials at low cost from its building at the foot of the Butte, or hill, of Montmartre.
By describing a mysterious – and fictional – malaise afflicting the self-declared “kingdom of fabric”, it says the book gives a false impression of the Marché.
Robert Gabbay, the store’s director, would not comment today. In an earlier interview with the news website Rue89, he said the business was a registered trademark. “No one can have anything to do with or talk about the Marché Saint Pierre without the authorisation of the owner and the director,” he said. “It’s defamation.”
François Besse, the head of the publishing house Parigramme, has called the arguments “unfair, abusive and crazy” and says the book is clearly presented as fiction. “At no moment does the novel imply that in everyday real life you are risking your life when buying a length of fabric,” he said.
Emmanuel Pierrat, Parigramme’s lawyer whose past clients include the best-selling author Michel Houellebecq, points out that the Louvre had not attempted to sue Dan Brown when The Da Vinci Code portrayed murders taking place in the museum.
For Walker, the court case has come as a shock. “I think this is serious. It means that every time you want to write a fiction you have to ask the permission of the owners or the place,” she said. “Potentially it represents a big threat to our liberty.”
She added, gloomily: “We will all have to end up writing science fiction instead.”