Prather’s Pick: New novel set in Telluride
This week’s novel for adults is reminiscent of “old time” westerns, when range battles were fought over land, water rights, gold mining, and cattle rustling. “Telluride Top of the World” is set in the 1970s, when a modern-day range war rages over a historical ranch near Telluride. Add developers of the skiing industry, politics, uranium mining, ranching endeavors, murder, and plenty of drugs and sex: It’s an action-packed novel, that’s for sure!
The novel was written by Tom Tatum and is a sequel to “FIJI 1970,” Tatum’s first book. The focus of “Telluride Top of the World” is the YBarC Ranch near Telluride. The leading character is Cooper Stuart, a 26-year-old man who has just returned home to the ranch after quite an active life spent in boarding school, college, the Peace Corps in Fiji, and even a year of agricultural school at the University of Hawaii.
Cooper has been back for about two months, but the opening chapter of the book finds him fishing in the San Miguel River, 20 miles west of Telluride. He’s trying to hook a giant brown trout — a record brown trout — that nobody has been able to catch all summer long.
A tug on the line leads Cooper to believe he’s hooked his fish, but when he can’t pull the fish out, he investigates more closely. He initially thinks he’s snagged a dead calf, and he’ll need to pull it out of the river. However, a noise startles him, and Cooper has to deal with a mountain lion first. He is able to scare the big cat off, then he turns back to his work.
It turns out there’s a human body in the river, and it had been weighted down. When he pulls it out, Cooper recognizes Bill Daniels, the Montrose and San Miguel District water engineer. The man has been missing for two weeks. Cooper knows all about water rights; the YBarC Ranch has senior water rights, dating back to 1884.
Cooper needs help getting the body loaded into his vehicle, so he recruits the help of two female campers down the road. He delivers the body to the sheriff substation at Norwood. The murder comes back into play later in the book.
When Cooper arrives back at the ranch, he finds his mother, Liz, reading a book. She has been a widow since Cooper’s father was killed during a charity polo game. That was a long time ago, when Cooper was only 8 years old. Since then, she has managed the ranch alone. Now, she tells Cooper that, since he’s back, she is going to move to a home in Montrose. It will be up to him to manage the ranch.
Furthermore, Liz says she has been borrowing $45,000 to 50,000 per year to run the ranch, and they now owe the bank $600,000. The 2,000 head of mother cows on the ranch have not been able to support the ranching operation. Cooper is certain \he can make arrangements with the bank in Telluride; after all, they’ve been doing business with them since his great-grandfather was alive.
But Cooper has a surprise in store. The bank no longer wants to deal with the ranch. Skiing is the new business, and all of the motels and restaurants that go with it. They need water and land for ranchettes.
A bitter range war is on the horizon. There are lots of interesting characters in the book, and there’s plenty of action!
The book costs $15.95 in softcover. It is published by Outskirts Press, Inc. Ask Downtown Books about its availability.