Thirty Hours with a Corpse: and Other Tales of the Grand Guignol by Maurice Level

Thirty Hours with a Corpse: and Other Tales of the Grand Guignol by Maurice Level
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 228 pages
Published March 16th 2016 by Dover Publications
Source: egalley via netgalley

A collection of every Maurice Level story translated into English (except one). This is a hodge-podge of stories and not all are by any means macabre or suspenseful but they all do have the shocking or at least unexpected ending. As described in the introduction, each of these stories can be considered a one-act play. They are all short and in fact, were produced as plays for the Grand Guignol. Level always wrote his plays as a short story first and then from that adapted it into a play. None of his plays were ever published. My enjoyment of the stories was mixed, with my ratings ranging from 1 to 5 stars but averaged out to a solid 3.5.

Introduction - Excellent introduction to the author's life (of which little is known), a discussion of his work and influences, and information on the collection. These are all Level's stories which have been translated into English excepting one which is so mainstream "its inclusion could not be justified". The dates given are from the first English publication; the stories come from two books containing collections and the last several appeared in magazines.

1. The Debt Collector (1920) - A devoted long-time employee, absconds with a large amount of money, secures it with a lawyer who will return the package upon mention of a name. The man then gives himself up to the police, spends five years in prison, goes off to collect his stolen money and cannot remember the name. Trying to recall it drives him to madness. (3/5)

2. The Kennel (1920) - A man on a rural estate finds his marriage, not the joyous passionate one he had imagined. One night alone in his room he gets up to visit his kennel of dogs and sees the light go off in his wife's room. There he finds a young man who appears asleep on the couch in her rooms. What ensues is tension filled and devious. (4/5)

3. Who? (1920) - A doctor works late one night and a skull he has on a shelf appears to suddenly form flesh and stare at him as a living person; the vision disappears. Then the doctor has a very unnerving experience. A good build up of suspense! (4/5)

4. Illusion (1920) - A beggar thinks about what he would do were he rich, then he meets a blind beggar and finds the richness in helping those less fortunate than yourself. Nice ... but it has a twist ending! (4/5)

5. In the Light of the Red Lamp (1920) - I'm not quite sure I get this one but a man is in a dark room developing the deathbed photograph of his beloved wife. (3/5)

6. A Mistake (1920) - A doctor is faced with a patient he diagnosed a year prior. This is a perfect example of the"one-act" stories Level writes. Predictable, though. (3/5)

7. Extenuating Circumstances (1920) - A mother sacrifices herself for the misdeeds of her son. Readable but boring. (2/5)

8. The Confession (1920) - The narrator is called to the deathbed of a prosecuting attorney, whom he does not recognise or seem to know. The man then proceeds to tell him he must make a confession to him. Very good build-up and surprising end. (5/5)

9. The Test (1920) - A man is brought before the corpse of a woman he is accused of murdering. He denies knowing her even though there are witnesses. The magistrate is questioning him about his obvious guilt. This has a great build-up but the ending is just plain silly. (2/5)

10. Poussette (1920) - An old maid, a devout Catholic, is obsessed with sins of the flesh. She is a virgin and has a beloved cat, that she has kept virginal as well. One night the cat escapes and the woman goes mad that it has been possessed by the Devil. A bit silly rather than freaky. (3/5)

11. The Father (1920) - Upon his mother's death a young man receive's a letter from her, revealing her secrets. He has a choice to make. The tension is how he will react at the end but this is more of a morality tale than weird or mysterious like the others. I liked it well enough, though. (3/5)

12. "For Nothing" (1920) - A man is accused of murder and will not tell the court how or why he did it. Then he finally gives his confession. The title "for nothing" can be applied to the story in several ways. Good build up but with the overdramatic ending that one can expect from this time period. (5/5)

13. In the Wheat (1920) - While working in the field with a scythe, an old woman convinces the man that his wife and master are having an affair. Pretty straightforward with an abrupt ending. (2/5)

14. The Beggar (1920) - Everybody basically gets what they deserve in this. A man is pushing a horse past his endurance to get a loaded waggon up a hill. The driver calls for the help of a beggar nearby but the horse can't do it and the waggon tips over. Trying to get help, the beggar finds he is treated as usual, less than human. More of a morality tale than anything else. (2/5)

15. Under Chloroform (1920) - Fifty years later a doctor tells a story at a gathering of the time he administered the chloroform to a patient who was the married woman he was having a passionate affair with. (3/5)

16. The Man Who Lay Asleep (1920) - A man just out of jail walks to Paris with murder in his heart. Now growing very hungry he finds a little house with no lights on looking for food. The owner (a large hulking man) comes home and he hides in a wardrobe; as the hours pass it gradually dawns on him just where the terrible place is that he has come to rest. A mounting terror throughout the story makes this a good read. (4/5)

17. Fascination (1920) - A man just acquitted of murder feels he must write out what really happened, as he is quite guilty. The man has always had these little compelling urges but never acted upon them before. This one is marvellous; you know what is coming but it is so suspenseful. (5/5)

18. The Bastard (1920) - Wow, this one is intense. A man comes home furious because he has finally succumbed to the village gossip that his wife is having an affair and has been since before they were married. Now he questions who is the father of their son with disastrous results. (5/5)

19. That Scoundrel Miron (1920) - This is quite a different calibre than the other stories. It's not "weird" or suspenseful but a sad little tale of an artist who finds out, by destroying his life, that he is revered much more "dead" than he ever was while actively painting. But then he also finds that later in life, he becomes a better painter than he ever was, only he cannot bring himself to compete with the name of his younger same. (5/5)

20. The Taint (1920) - I suppose this would be a scary or haunting fear of parents back in the early years of the 20th century, but read today it is simply a sad tale. A pregnant woman finds out her husband is epileptic (a terrifying condition back then) and the hubby dies. After she gives birth all she can think of is both the disease and madness that runs in his family, thus, she kills the baby of which she is terrified. (1/5)

21. The Kiss (1920) - A man is in the hospital for shooting himself when the prostitute he loves dumps him. He is tended to by a nursing nun and as the man's madness turns to death, we learn why the woman become a nun. Overdramatic. (2/5)

22. A Maniac (1920) - A man is obsessed by accidents of pure chance. He visits the opera every night waiting for it to have a fire. He visits the zoo every day waiting for the lion to maul its handler. Then both occur after ten years. Now having nothing to do he is purposeless until he sees the signs in town that a cyclist will perform a death-defying stunt on a type of roller coaster track for the next three months. The end was inevitable but this was a good read. (3/5)

23. The 10:50 Express (1920) - A "cripple" tells a man the story of how he was paralysed in a train accident. Fast-paced reading as we hear the thoughts of a quadriplegic in the middle of onrushing danger. (4/5)

24. Blue Eyes (1920) - This is a dark atmospheric story that gives you a little shiver at the end. An emaciated young woman who is in the hospital and only been up a few days pleads to leave for just the next day, as it is All Soul's day and she must leave flowers on the grave of her lover who has been dead less than a year. We learn she is/was a prostitute and her man was executed, being destitute she is frantic to get some flowers. (5/5)

25. The Empty House (1920) - A thief enters a house he knows to be empty. He's looking for cash and financial documents rather than silver. He feels a strange sense of apprehension when first entering the house, but as a pro at this line of work he falls back into ease. Except what he meets, later on, is the last thing he'd expected. Good mounting terror. (5/5)

26. The Last Kiss (1920) - A man has a last talk with his lover who threw acid in his face blinding and scarring him. Tense. (4/5)

27. Under Ether (1918) - A French doctor operates on a German soldier during the war. Nothing happens, just a short dealing with the humanity of those involved in war. (3/5)

28. The Spirit of Alsace (1918) - So the Prussians take over a village that the French troops have just been through. They command a Prussian draper to lead them where the troops went and drag the mayor along. The mayor constantly harangues the draper as a traitor, but there is a twist ending, Not bad for what it was. (3/5)

29. At the Movies (1918) - A wife believes her husband fell with the first troop to die. Watching a newsreel at the movies she answers her son's questions about his dad that is, until she has a shock. (3/5)

30. The Little Soldier (1918) - A young soldier, a corporal, and a girl meet in a storm and she learns of his life history and injury in the war. He manages to get her home and later she learns she's met a true, "officer and a gentleman". Well written, but I'm not particularly finding these war stories entertaining. (3/5)

31. The Great Scene (1918) - A famous actor can't get an emotional scene right saying he must save it for the audience. When the night comes he doesn't deliver as expected and we learn why. Another so-so war story. (3/5)

32. After the War (1918) - Just some talk between German soldiers showing how they talk and act are different. Showing their brutality. (1/5)

33. The Appalling Gift (1923) - Anyone can relate to this. An aunt sends a couple a hideous vase. They decide to hide it and only bring it out when she visits. The aunt ends up with the last word. Funny! (4/5)

34. Night and Silence (1932) - Now this is freaky! The best story here. Three siblings: a cripple, a blind man, and a deaf mute. The cripple dies and the other two put her in a coffin and sit vigil with her for the night. One man can only see, the other can hear and speak, they can't communicate to each other when the terrible thing that happens after the candles have gone out. (5/5)

35. The Cripple (1933) - A man is injured in a threshing machine and can't use his hands. The courts have said the farmer must continue to pay him his weekly wages. The man has a dilemma when a young washerwoman falls into the river. A good twist ending. (4/5)

36. The Look (1933) - A man goes to visit his newly wed friend and meet the wife. They've just recently got married but she was his mistress for two years prior. They only married when she was free to. There is a cloud over the house's atmosphere, the wife leaves the men be and the adulterer tells his friend the whole story of the misery they find themselves in. Good gothic feel. (4/5)

37. The Horror on the Night Express (1934) - A murder mystery is being discussed in a train car. The woman is fascinated and one man turns out to be the medical examiner for the case. He tells them a new clue that will positively ID the murderer will be revealed in the papers tomorrow. Then horror happens. Delightful! (5/5)

38. Thirty Hours with a Corpse (1934) - Finally the titular story and it is a tour de force! In the grand style of Poe, this story deals with the unbearable guilt of the main characters. Two men stand staring at the dead woman in their rooms, decide to put her in a trunk and from there everything goes wrong as they try to escape. We don't find out how she died until the end. (5/5)

39. She Thought of Everything (1935) - One evening at supper a woman decides to kill her husband. Then over the next few months, she plans it all. Has a whopper of an ending. I'd been expecting the same end results but not the way they unfolded. A perfect story to end the collection with. (5/5)


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