Novel tells rousing tale of 1890 Denver

Young lawyer plays role of truth-seeker

Murder in the Rockies” by G. Eldon Smith is a murder mystery set in 1890s Denver and nearby mountain communities. Courtesy photo
G. Eldon Smith of Centennial is the author of “Murder in the Rockies.” Courtesy photo
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“About half a dozen regular customers leaned on the bar in Murphy’s Denver Saloon … as good as any spot to spend the hot summer morning …” Then two angry men stormed in and a fight ensued over the attentions both had paid to a lady of the night, a “soiled dove.”

At about that time, Andrew Coyle, Esq., a newly minted lawyer from Philadelphia, arrived by train and saw policemen escorting a prisoner along the street.

He took the cable car to 17th and Larimer Streets and headed for the classy Windsor Hotel … Familiar names of buildings and businesses add to the fun of solving a mystery.

Before he embarked on writing “Murder in the Rockies,” author G. Eldon “Gary” Smith had read a great deal of Denver history, circa 1890 — books by Tom Noel, Phil Goldstein and especially “Hell’s Belles: Prostitution and Vice in Early Denver” by Clark Secrest.

(The third-generation Longmont native, who now lives in Centennial, notes that Secrest was two classes ahead of him at Longmont High School. )

“As I was doing my research about early days in Colorado, I kept coming across the year 1890 as a time when many events took place. It soon became apparent that my novel was going to take place in 1890. I put down the basic premise and the beginning and end of my novel and let the characters tell their own story. Many characters I had not forseen entered the story and changed the plot. I just used spell check and left the story up to the characters.”

And he has a grand assortment of characters — some we have read about in history books and others who are figments of Smith’s imagination.

They actually are reasonably well under the author’s control most of the time.

They cross paths in downtown Denver — described as it was then, visit restaurants and bars and courtrooms.

Coyle defends a rancher accused of murdering a miner, although Coyle is convinced of his innocence.

Smith said he had visited all the locations mentioned in the novel — some during Tom Noel’s and Dennis Gallagher’s historic walking tours/lectures.

Coyle had to do a quick study on Colorado statutes and had to figure out how to locate the actual murderer of Henry Defler, since he was certain his first client, Will Conway, was innocent — unfortunately, he had been heard to threaten Defler in that opening bar scene and most in town considered him guilty.

The reader travels with the young attorney to Idaho Springs and up into mining country in search of the truth and Smith describes the dry, dusty, rutted roads and miner’s claims as we encounter other gun-toting characters. Coyle Esq. finally figures it out in Sherlockian manner, outwitting the murderer. (A local sheriff is discovering Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and talks of the technology such as fingerprint analysis.)

And then, there is the pretty haberdasher’s daughter …

“Murder in the Rockies” by G. Eldon Smith is available at all Tattered Cover stores in a $15.95 trade paperback.

It would fit well in a scene with a big cozy chair and a cup of hot cocoa.

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