I don't usually think of Talmage Powell as a Western writer. I know him better as the author of a hardboiled mystery series featuring
private eye Ed Rivers, as well as other mystery stories and novels. But he contributed a number of stories to the Western pulps in the Forties and Fifties and also wrote this 1969 novel, which turns out to be an excellent Western. Florida
THE CAGE starts out as a standard revenge Western. Former Confederate officer Webb Cameron and his wife
start a small ranch in Temple West Texas after the Civil War. While Cameron is away from home his wife is attacked by someone. Though beaten and raped, she isn't killed (Powell's first deviation from the standard formula). The ordeal does cause her to lose her mind, however, and retreat from reality. When Cameron finds her, he vows to track down her attackers and make them pay.
This is when Powell throws another twist at the reader. Instead of leaving his wife with friends, relatives, or just about anybody else to care for, Cameron builds a cage for her in the back of a wagon (so she can't wander off and hurt herself) and takes her with him on his vengeance quest. From there things get weirder as Cameron picks up some unlikely allies (all of whom have interesting back stories, which Powell explores with as much depth as possible in a 127-page paperback), runs into a band of renegade Seminole Indians who have escaped from a reservation (the idea of putting swamp Indians in the desert instead of the usual Comanches or Apaches is a very nice touch), and finally tracks down the men he's after in a small Mexican village run by a typical Mexican bandido who turns out not to be so typical after all.
This is a bit of a kitchen sink book, with a lot of Western cliches thrown in, but Powell turns nearly all of them on their head and does so in a crisp, fast-moving style. I highly recommend this one to anybody who likes an offbeat Western.