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A thrilling, true-crime page turner for fans of the netflix docu-drama WILD WILD COUNTRY, or the bestselling book I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara—from cultish religious extremists to remarkable true-life plot twists, from courtroom scandals involving relationships between defendants and lawyers and more, this is a widely appealing read
Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic evangelical Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most unbelievable and violent criminal events in U.S. history, and one that changed the face of American law enforcement for decades to come
With the internet and social media today giving amplified voice to the radical right, we are well aware of the cultural conditions that mobilize extremist, religious white men (Q, InCel, etc). Norco '80 explores how this is not a new phenomenon in America, but it is a profoundly disturbing and consequential one
The author's access to this story was singular: Houlahan was a first responder to one of the most horrible violent acts in the US– the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting–and this gave him a tremendous amount of credibility with the Norco deputies, many of whom opened up about their experience in ways they would not have to other writers.
Some of the most compelling parts of the book uncover the men's complex and wildly-varying motivations for this violent crime: George Wayne Smith, the man who planned and led the robbery wanted money to buy a cabin in the remote mountains of Utah where he would gather his loved ones to ride out the impending apocalypse and await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Chris Harven was a survivalist who had his own doomsday belief in which a rare alignment of planets two years off would result in “The Jupiter Effect,” triggering cataclysmic natural disasters followed by lawlessness and social collapse.
With black and white photos throughout
Praise from Librarians and Booksellers:
"Norco ’80 is one hell-raising ride through 1970s Southern California with an apocalyptic prophet and the prosecutors bent on turning the tables on the policemen involved in the most violent bank heist ever committed on American soil. From the minute you meet the charismatic George Smith and his flunky friend Christopher Harven, you’ll be hanging on for dear life, waiting for the next catastrophe to take your breath away with each heartbreaking turn of the page. It’s part law and part order, and it’s outstanding!" —Kristin Bates, McLean & Eakin Booksellers (Petoskey, MI)
"On May 9, 1980, what we usually happens only in action-thriller movies came to life in Orange Country, California. I don’t usually read true crime, but Houlahan’s writing pulled me in. While reading this meticulously researched and documented account, I could almost smell the gunpowder, hear the cacophony of gunfire making my ears ring, and see the dust clear as the largest crime scene in American history came into view. Documented here is how an attempted bank robbery and its subsequent trial would forever change a town, its people, and law enforcement nationwide. The crime and court case may have been an unbelievable firestorm catastrophe, but this book is pitch-perfect." —Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
"In 1980 in California, a group of religiously inspired survivalists set out to rob a bank. With assault rifles and homemade explosives, they significantly outgunned the law enforcement officers they encountered. Peter Houlahan approaches the tale fully armed with facts culled from interviews, police reports, and court documents. He deploys them in steady bursts that hold the reader steady in a literary bullet time while the fast motion mayhem plays out. Norco ’80 is a riveting true crime adventure that also explains one of the predicates for the militarization of modern police departments." —Keith Mosman, Powell's Bookstore (Portland, OR)
"If you're one of those people who don't read true crime, this book will change your mind about the genre. Loved it!" —Tom Beans, Dudley's Bookshop Cafe (Bend, OR)
"Norco '80 is a wild ride! The action plays out like a heist film, but the author also shows immense empathy for the wide range of characters—from the robbers to the first responders to the passersby. If you want to have a ton of fun while learning about an event that shaped the way our country responds to crime." —Hadley Turner, Towne Book Center & Cafe (Collegeville, PA)
"First-time author Peter Houlahan has already figured out how to write as well as the best narrative nonfiction writers out there. Norco ’80 tells the true tale of an epic bank robbery. Not only does the reader get a minute-by-minute account of the day, but Houlahan also brings great depth to the characters involved. Norco ’80 should not slide past the bedside stands of any fans of fast-paced true crime." —Powell's Books, Staff Top Fives of the Year