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Nils Hövenmark (1922-1995)

 

Swedish pharmacist and writer, whose mystery novels became very popular in the Scandinavian countries. Several of Hövenmark's stories were set in the small commune of Svartselet, an idyllic place in the northern Sweden with an exceptionally high murder rate. Svartselet series starts from the 1950s and then follows the lives of a wide variety of people up to 1980s.

"Ett samhälle som många andra. Med kyrka och pastorsexpedition, med kommunalkontor, arbetsförmedling och försäkringskassa, med postexpedition och till och med systembolag. Det är ingenting särskilt med Svartelse mer än att det alltid tycks hända egendomliga saker där. Egendomliga människor dör ideligen under egendomliga omständigheter. Men trots den dödligheten tycks procenten originella innevånare bara öka..." (from Systrarna Svenssons sybehörsaffär, 1978)

Nils Hövenmark was born Nils Nilsson in Vilhelmina in Västerbotten, the son of John A. Nilsson, a merchant, and Signe Nilsson (née Backlund). At the age of eighteen, he was apprenticed to a pharmacist in his home town, and then he continued his education in Umeå. After passing his examination, Hövenmark worked in Stockholm. In 1948 he married Gun Mellqvist, a pharmacist. His own drug store Hövenmark opened in 1952 in Jokkmokk, about 70 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Hövenmark and his wife Gun became known in the 1950s as radio personalities; they produced hundreds of programs from the studio built in the attic of their house. In 1960 Hövenmark joined the Sami editorial team. He was also a founder of the local Rotary Club, participated in local politics, and served as a member of the museum board. Hövenmark died of cancer on October 21, 1999. He had four daughters from his marriage. Gun Hövenmark died in 1999.

Hövenmark made his debut as a mystery writer with Döden i Svartselet  (1970), which introduced the scene of his novels, Svartselet, in the county of Norrbotten. The charaters are warmly portrayed, among them Karl Skötlund, a Communist, his opponent Olov Svanlund, a shoemaker and a reactionary, Erik Bleck, a Jack-of-all-trades, and Emilia Spetsberg, who falls in love with Erik. Somebody paints Karl's red cart blue and yellow – the colors of the Swedish flag. Agneta Blom, Erik's narrow-minded landlady, is found dead from his workshop and Erik is suspected of murder. Then Karl is burned into his cabin. Sheriff Vilhelm Lundberg, who loves secretly Gudrun Frisk, the wife of a timid cashier, solves the crimes, and Emilia starts to plan her future with Erik.

Döden på apoteket (1972), set in the year of 1942, was based on Hövenmark's experiences as a pharmacist. The reader is provided with advice how much tincture belladonnae is needed to kill a person, and how to cover the taste of a poison in a drink. In the story Gustav Wahlberg, a 25-years-old graduate of pharmacology, is found dead after a party. The police has many suspects, most of them Wahlberg's colleagues form the local drug store named Vargen. Eventually the murder turns out to be a laboratory assistant, who has used his knowledge of chemistry to stun Walhberg, but accidentally manages to kill him. A reporter dies in En död i kvarten (1974), his whisky poisoned with wolfsbane. A classic poison, cyanine, appears in Döden på vandring (1976). Vargavinter (1981) deals with euthanasia. The murderer works again Vargen, and the poison is lanachrist.

Kommunaldådet (1975) focused on the local politics of Svartselet. Viktor Swenson, the social democratic county manager, loses his position after a political coup d'etat. Rumors about scandals and corruption spread, and Tryggve Berg, Victor's close party friend, is murdered. Vilhelm Lundberg, who has moved to another town, is called to solve the crime. Much have changed in Svartelse but Vilhelm still loves Gudrun, who finally reveals that she has loved him all the time she has been married.  Ensamstående äldre herre (1980) developed ideas from Alfred Hitchcock's film Rear Window (1954). This time the protagonist is a widow, Seved Lindqvist, who buys strong binoculars to look for the stars but his astronomic observations turn into watching Mona Lisa, his neighbour. Seved witnesses a murder in her apartment but is afraid to go to the police and reveal that he is a 'Peeping Tom.'

" Varför måste man en massa saker? Konventioner? Javisst. Men konventioner borde man kunna sätta sig över. Strunta i alla måsten, som hänger runt omkring en. I stället plågar man sig med dem. Du måste. Du borde. Dina reaktioner är osunda, asociala. Det blir en plåga till sist. En plåga som man själv skaffar sig." (from Ensamstående äldre herre)

In Systrarna Svenssons Sybehörsaffär (1978) the regular life of two old maid sisters, Adga and Elin, is upset by a mysterious engineer Rolf Olsson. Elin's dreams about Rolf are are shattered when he is killed in an explosion in his laboratory. Lieutenant Sven Boman solves the murder and Hövenmark mentions, that Gudrun Frish is a widow, and Vilhelm Lundberg visits her every weekend. The reader meets again Erik Beck and Emilia in their old age in Ringlinjen (1982). Gudrun and Vilhelm are married, and Sven Boman is trying to find out who murdered the former teacher Hartvig Ekström – was it his neighbor, a village fool known as Ringlinjen.

For further reading: 'Första deckaren kom för 25 år sedan' by Lars G. Persson, in Dast, Nr 4, (1995); 'Nils Hövenmark - inte bara apotekare' by Bengt Rosén, in Unicornis 1 (2005) - Other Scandinavian mystery writers: SWEDEN: Tomas Arvidsson, K. Arne Blom, Jean Bolinder, Ulf Durling, Åke Edwardson, Jan Guillou,Olle Högstrand, Maria Lang, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Håkan Nesser, Leif G.W. Persson, Maj Sjöwall, Vic Suneson, Olov Svedelid, Stieg Trenter, Per Wahlöö / FINLAND: Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Pentti Kirstilä, Leena Lehtolainen, Reijo Mäki, Juha Numminen, Harri Nykänen, Outsider, Mauri Sariola, Marton Taiga, Tauno Yliruusi / DENMARK: Bo Bjørnvik, Leif Davidsen, Kirsten Holst, Erik Otto Larsen, Bjarne Reuter, Helle Stangerup / NORWAY: Karin Fossum, Kolbjørn Hauge, Anne Holt, Unni Maria Lindell, Anne Birkendeldt Ragde, Arid Rypdal, Kjersti Scheen, Fredrik Skagen, Kim Småge.

Selected works:

  • Farmaci i ödemarksbygd, 1967
  • Hövens funderingar 1952-1968, 1968
  • Samerna - en minoritet i brytningstid / Die Lappen: eine Minderheit im Umbruch, 1968
  • Döden i Svartselet, 1970
    - Olen utelias ja kuollut (suom. Päiviö Taubert, 1972)
  • Döden på apoteket, 1972
    - Kuolema käy apteekissa (suom. Päiviuö Taubert, 1973)
  • Döden på Rotaryklubben, 1973
  • En död i kvarten, 1974
  • Kommunaldådet, 1975
    - Kunnallismurha (suom. Päiviö Taubert, 1980)
  • Döden på vandring, 1976
  • Systrarna Svenssons Sybehörsaffär, 1978
    - Dynamiittia ja ompelutarvikeita (suom. Päiviö Taubert, 1981)
  • Ensamstående äldre herre, 1980
  • Vargavinter, 1981
  • Ringlinjen, 1982
    - Rimppalinja (suom. Pirkko Pesola, 1986)
  • Adjunkt på villovägar, 1983
  • Andersson, Petterson, Lundström och jag: variationer kring ett tema av Nils Ferlin, 1985


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