The Three works collected in this volume are Serenade (1937), Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942), and The Butterfly (1947). They illustrate what a great writer James M. Cain was, and also why he is little appreciated beyond his first two works of fiction, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and Double Indemnity (1936).
Serenade is about an opera singer whose career ends when he is seduced by a gay man from high society. Love's Lovely Counterfeit is about a driver for a mob boss who becomes the boss in a corrupt city. The Butterfly is about a moonshiner in Kentucky whose long lost daughter shows up to live with him.
Not only does Cain treat widely different subjects in these stories from the 1930s and 1940s, he does so in distinct voices. Love's Lovely Counterfeit is told in gangland slang. The Butterfly captures the stark poetry of Appalachian speech.
No one would say Cain should have continued writing about a man plotting with a woman to kill her husband, which is the subject of his first two books. But he might have stayed closer to his original material.
Instead, Cain seems to have set out to prove he could write in different styles about different worlds. He challenges his readers to try new experiences, but many readers want more of the same.
The three stories in this book have one thing in common with "Postman" and Double Indemnity. Each centers on a man trapped by his own compulsions. Cain's wrote consistently in the tradition of the naturalistic novel, but he strayed from the sub-category called noir.