RAYMOND CHANDLER “English Summer.” Written in 1957; first printed in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane (Ecco Press, hardcover, 1976).

   A story that went unpublished in Chandler’s lifetime, and it’s easy to see why. But an excellent work nonetheless, and one of his best in the short story medium — which is saying a lot.

   According to Chandler’s notes (recorded in Raymond Chandler Speaking) he saw “English Summer” as a break-out work, one that would re-define his writing for the future. Hence, the first few pages read like he’s trying to change his accustomed style, and the result is a little constrained and sort of self-consciously Hemingwayesque.

   Fortunately, Chandler can’t keep up the strain of not writing like Chandler for long, and we are soon back into the familiar and uniformly excellent prose of a great writer at his best and when we get into the story proper….

   Yeah. This is a creepy one. The narrator, John Paringdon, is hopelessly in love with Millicent Crandall, who is married to an abusive and neglectful drunk. He is in fact a guest at their country cottage, the sort of situation that should lead to a weekend of brittle dialogue, but Chandler observes the unities here. At break of day Paringdon goes for a walk and meets the bewitching Lady Lakenham. By sunset he will be in love with no one.

   This being Chandler, there’s murder involved, done casually as dust swept under a casket. There’s also cold-blooded seduction committed by Lady Lakenham, in a castle hacked to pieces by her husband.

   We even get the sort of cross-country flight from the authorities one finds in the chase novels of John Buchan. But that’s not what “English Summer” is about.

   “English Summer” is about the death of Love. And it comes from a writer who once observed that in a mystery, the crime is (or should be) less important than its effect upon the characters — brilliantly realized here in a few pages that will haunt me for a long time.