Telluride Top of the World by Tom Tatum
Updated: May 12, 2020
Sex, drugs, and a deadly war over water rights. It is Telluride, Colorado in the late 1970s, and Cooper Stuart is in the prime of his life. He is twenty-six, good looking, and hot to trot. The women he meets and the drugs that come with them are both very much to his liking. They could prove to be his downfall however, at least where water’s involved. Lonnie Halstrom Sr. owns a ski company that needs to buy Cooper’s family’s ranch land and water rights in order to build the ski condos he’s planning. Lonnie has an old axe to grind with the Stuart family and the ranch is deeply in debt, making it vulnerable to the considerable pressure (and illegal tactics) Lonnie applies in order to get what he wants. Meanwhile, Cooper’s extracurricular pursuits are effectively distracting him from the trap Lonnie has laid for him. Cooper’s only hope to save the ranch is get focused and figure out Lonnie’s plan before it’s too late.
Cooper Stuart comes across as a superhuman, R-rated Chuck Norris; he sustains barely a scratch in situations that are fatal to others, and the one time he is seriously injured he is magically healed in a Ute purification ritual. He is clear-headed when others panic, he keeps his distance from his emotions, and has women falling for him left and right. Between the repeated attempts on Cooper’s life, the efforts to destroy his ranch, and his frequent afternoon delights, there is a lot going on in Telluride Top of the World. So much so that the story might be better served by parceling it out, as in serialized fiction, in order to let the reader absorb one escapade before being thrust into the next one.
Author Tom Tatum’s first-hand knowledge of ranching comes across in Telluride, as does his affinity for the lifestyle and the land that supports it. Tatum also aptly illustrates the intense and far-reaching tug o’ war in the West regarding water, who owns it, who should own it, and who should decide who owns it. As anyone who benefits from Rocky Mountain snowmelt knows, the real gold in “them thar hills” isn’t gold at all, but water. This was true in Cooper Stuart’s time, it’s absolutely true today, and will continue to be true for many years to come.