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Stieg Trenter (1914-1967) - original name Stig Johansson


Swedish journalist and mystery writer, who published 25 crime novels from 1943 to 1967. Stieg Trenter's hero is the photographer and amateur detective Harry Friberg. His last book was finished by his wife UIla Trenter, who then continued the series. Trenter depicted the idyllic parks, business streets, historical places, and modern milieu of Stockholm so vividly that in 1994 plans were made to name a street in the city after him. Trenter's book have enjoyed popularity decades and reprinted several times.

"I hörnet av Drottninggatan var det som vanligt stockning. Bilarna stod tätt som får in en fålla och otåliga som kapplöpningshästar. Körbanan låg för tillfället tom. Jag gav mig ut på asfalten, men innan jag hunnit över, släpptes kopplet bakom mig fritt. Det var som om en timmerbråte plötsligt kommit loss. Det blev ett kort och rafflande gatlopp mellan anstormande bilar och cyclar. När jag slutligen nådde motsatta trottoaren, tackade jag en mild försyn för all jag fortfarande hade lemmnarna i behåll." (from Tragiskt telegram, 1947)

Stieg Trenter was born Stig Johansson in Brännkyrka, the second son of Karl Ivar  Johansson and Ingegerd Johansson (née Leven). His parents ran a small country store. After intermediate school, Trenter left his studies, and worked among others as a butcher and an aircraft mechanic at the Swedish Air Forces. Trenter's early writings appeared in the magazine Levande livet, which published adventure tales. In the mid-1930s Trenter started his career as a journalist at Stockholm-Tidningen, and served later as a foreign correspondent in Abyssinia.

Trenter made his debut as a mystery writer in 1943 with Ingen kan hejda döden, in which the central character is a young journalist. Noteworthy, in the same decade appeared also Vic Suneson's, Maria Lang's and Dagmar Lange's first mystery books. Trenter's Farlig fåfänga (1944), which marked the birth of the modern Swedish mystery novel, introduced photographer Harry Fribeg, the hero is all his mysteries except two. Harry's model was the world famous Swedish photographer K.W. Gullers, with whom Trenter cooperated in two books, Italien (1949) and Gamla stan (1953). His pseudonym Trenter drew from E.C. Bentley's famous detective novel Trent's Last Case (1913).

In Tragiskt telegram (1947) a woman is murdered in a park and Harry starts his chase with the inspector Vesper Johnson through Europe, which ends in Italy. It is not Harry's last visit in the country. In Roparen (1954) he already speaks fluently Italian language. Tiga är silver (1955) begins from Lausanne. Harry helps a young woman, Alice Tapper, who is suspected of the murder of a Swedish artist. Together they travel to Florence, where Alice follows a woman to the Pitti Palace, a famous Florence landmark. 

Aldrig näcken (1953) was set on the coast of eastern Sweden. Harry appears relatively late on the scene and solves the puzzle of the death of a jealous husband, found hanged on an empty island. Trenter's idea how the body is moved to the island is not easy to figure out: it is pulled by a two kilometer long rope from mainland to its finding place. The protagonist is Harry's friend Eve, whose holiday adventure during the bright days of late summer includes also swimming, fishing, and bumping into more or less strange local characters.

The locating of the Swedish 17th century warship Wasa, which had sunk in 1628, was weaved into the plot of the Färjkarlen (1961). At the end Harry is saved by a young woman, Kerstin Ahlmark, who has an active role in the story. Tolfte Knappen (1965) combined the history of Charles XII (1697-1718) with a modern murder case. The reader is taken to a guided tour in Stockholm's restaurants and learns much about the king, who was killed in 1718, when was leading the besieging of the Norwegian fortress of Fredrikssten. Charles XII's death is still a mystery

In Narr på nocken (1956) the narrator is Harry. The story focuses on the world of horse racing from Italy to Stockholm. Trenter gives for the reader information about the cities, their history and noteworthy places, binding these small details seamlessly into the plot. Horse races are depicted with knowledge and sense of atmosphere, not missing much from the later works of the English jockey-writer Dick Francis. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Trenter sometimes set the climax of the story into a well-known place. The clock tower of the department store NKI becomes part of the narration of Träff i helfigur (1948). From the 1950s Trenter started to focus more on milieu description, such as the Post, Central Station, Kastellholmen, Sturebadet health center, Kungstornen, Söder, the Djurgård Ferry.

Trenter's other detective character is the inspector Vesper Johnson, who loves food, drink, and logic deduction. He appeared first time in I dag röd (1945). Harry and Vesper spent much time in quality restaurants, Oprakällaren, Cattelin, or Stallmästargården. Their discussions are an important part of the stories – Harry uses stylized slang and the inspector comments sarcastically his ideas. Verper's model was Runar Karlströmer, who was not a police officer but a journalist. The colorful inspector was replaced by Viktor Regn when Trenter abandoned Harry's first-person narration in some books. Verper returned again in Narr på nocken. It was awarded the Sherlock statue of the newspaper Expressen.

Several of Trenter's novels have been made for film and television. Roparen and Färjkarlen have been turned into graphic novels, drawn in a pleasant Tintin style by Jakob Nilsson. After Trenter's death in 1967 his wife Ulla continued the series.  Rosenkavaljeren (1967) was based on Trenter's draft, but – Kungens lilla piga (1968) was her first independent work. In her books Harry's life becomes more quiet, he marries Astrid, who works in the advertising world. With Astrid comes a stepdaughter, Lotta. Harry leaves behind the exclusive meals and drinks with Vesper Johnson, which made his readers drool like Pavlov's dogs. Ulla Trenter also had to slow down Harry's aging in her books in the 1970s. Harry, born in 1916 (?), was nearly thirty when he appeared on the scene. In her books Harry is over fifty. 

For further reading: Stieg Trenters Stockholm, ed. by Bertil R. Wideberg (1987); Författare i vår tid, ed. by Tia Hammarbäck-Lundin & Kerstin Wahlberg (1986); En bok om Stieg Trenter by Bo Lundin, Karl G Fredriksson et al. (1982); Några deckarbibliografiska anteckningar by Rolf E. du Rietz (Text 1974:4); Spårhundarna by Bo Lundin (1973) - Friberg series continued by Ulla Trenter-Palm: Kungens lilla piga (1968); Påfågeln (1969); Odjuret (1970); Gästen (1971); Skatten (1972); Kedjan (1973); Sov i ro, Tigerhajen, Drakblodet, En gång är ingen gång, De dödas lott, Kartan, Skyddsänglarna, Döda rummet, Rika barn leka häst, Grodmuggen, Som man bäddar, Värsta möjliga tystnad, En död liten stuga, Döden i rikssalen, De röda cirklarna, Sköna juveler (1991).

Selected works:

  • Ingen kan hejda döden, 1943
    - Kukaan ei voi estää kuolemaa (suom. Leo Kuoppala, 1945)
  • Som man ropar... , 1944
    - TV film 1988, prod. STV Drama, dir. by Lars-Göran Pettersson, starring Tomas Norström, Unni Kristin Skagestad and Carl-Olof Alm  
  • Farlig fåfänga, 1944
  • I dag röd..., 1945
    - TV film 1987, prod. STV Drama, dir. by Jonas Cornell, starring Örjan Ramberg (as Harry Friberg), Stig Grybe (as Vesper Johnson) and Marianne Stjernqvist  
  • Lysande landning, 1946
    - TV film 1987, prod. STV Drama, dir. by Jonas Cornell, starring Örjan Ramberg (as Harry Friberg), Stig Grybe (as Vesper Johnson), Marie Richardson 
  • Tragiskt telegram, 1947
  • Det kom en gäst, 1947 (screenplay with Arne Mattson)
    - film prod. by Fribergs Filmbyrå AB, dir. by Arne Mattsson, starring Ivar Kåge, Naima Wifstrand, Elsie Albin, Karl-Arne Holmsten  
  • Träff i helfigur, 1948
    - TV film 1987, prod. STV Drama, dir. by Pelle Seth, starring Örjan Ramberg (as Harry Friberg), Stig Grybe (as Vesper Johnson) and Ewa Fröling  
  • Eld i håg, 1949
  • Italien, 1949 (with K.W. Gullers)
    - Italy (tr. 1960)
  • Lek lilla Louise, 1950
  • Ristat i sten, 1952
  • Aldrig Näcken, 1953
    - Rannalle nousi näkki (suom. S.S. Taula, 1954)
  • Gamla stan, 1953 (with K.W. Gullers)
    - The Old Town of Stockholm (translated by Alan Blair and Anne Bibby, 1953)
  • Roparen, 1954 (also: Stieg Trenter's Roparen by Jakob Nilsson, 2008)
    - Kuka murhasi Suzannen? (suom. Margareta Lausala, T.A. Lausala, 1956)
  • Tiga är silver, 1955
  • Narr på nocken, 1956
    - Narrit eivät pelkää (suom. Satu Repo, 1957)
  • Kalla handen, 1957
  • Springaren, 1958
  • Dockan till Samarkand, 1959
  • Skuggan, 1960
  • Färjkarlen, 1961 (also: Stieg Trenter's Färjkarlen by Jakob Nilsson, 2012) 
  • Flickan som snavade på guldet och andra detektivberättelser, 1962
  • Sturemordet, 1962
  • Dvärgarna, 1963
  • Guldgåsen, 1964
  • Tolfte Knappen, 1965
  • Sjöjungfrun, 1966
  • Rosenkavaljeren, 1967 (with Ulla Trenter)
  • De döda fiskarna och andra spänningsberättelser, 2001 (foreword by Per Olaisen)
  • Minnen för miljoner, 2007

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