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Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History
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Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  173 ratings  ·  43 reviews
In the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Onion Field, Norco ’80 is a gripping true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history.

Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever ch
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published June 11th 2019 by Counterpoint Press
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4.31  · 
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 ·  173 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh, this book was all kinds of amazing!

Even though I'm from Southern California, I'd never heard of the Norco bank robbery. I figured it was before my time, but my parents hadn't heard of it either. Reading, this, I don't know how we missed it.

This is one exciting read.

While the author takes some liberties here and there with the feelings of some of our participants (like one dying young man was thinking/feeling), those liberties are logical.

The book is well researched, but honestly reads like
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, own, vine
This is a remarkable book, the true story of a bank robbery in Norco, California, in Riverside County by five men, some of them religious Christians convinced the end times were coming. Two lived together in a house in Norco where they were digging trenches and fencing the perimeter of their property with barbed wire preparing for marauders to come for their caches of food, weapons and supplies. They were late on the mortgage, owed child support so there may have been a mixed motive for the bank ...more
Debbie Rose
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evidence Never Lies

Given the evidence available to you, I appreciate you being an impartial writer...WELL DONE.
From one who lived it,
Debbie Rose
Investigator Asst. to Jeanne Painter
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars really...

Quite a story and one that, like most people, I was completely unfamiliar with. I know there is talk of a movie about this, and there really should be.

The book is a good read, although it drags a bit in the trial portion... Then again so did the actual trial. But the robbery, shootout, chase, and apprehension... WOW. Just wow. That three people died is both terrible and remarkable.

Glad I read it and at times really hard to put down.
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Norco ‘80 by Peter Houlahan is a nonfiction #BOTM pick. This book tells the story of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong in California in 1980. There is a lot of detail (sometimes too much) about the robbery, the chase and the trial. There is a about the effect on the lives involved, especially for law enforcement. Reads like the author did his research. A good choice if you’re interested in what it was like in the late 70’s/early 80’s.
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting story, but gets a bit bogged down in the details of the police chase. Overall, very enjoyable
I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. This story provides further proof that truth is stranger than fiction. From the beginning, it engages the reader and doesn't let go; narrative writing at its finest. I lived in the midwest and was in my teens during the time of this crime and trial and I don't remember hearing anything about it, so I was fascinated by the entire tale. It was especially enlightening reading about how this one crime impacted law enforcement, particularly the militariza ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
So I realize that I have a kind of hardcore ideal of what "histories" should be about and why they should be written (see my review of The Crowded Hour among other histories I have recently read for an idea of what I am talking about.) So when I read Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History I found myself at cross purposes--was I reading a history or a true-crime book? Of course the answer was both but I think what I was trying to figure out was if I w ...more
Ken Heard
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was bogged down at first by Peter Houlahan's writing style in the first third of the book. He took massive author liberties in assuming what the robbers said and thought while planning their heist and during the actual robbery. There's an eff-load of cursing in their thoughts. Maybe it was a way to show the excessiveness of the 1980s lifestyle (think Scarface, the Brian DePalma movie featuring Al Pacino that captured with brilliant satire the excessive world of that era in Miam1). It was also ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Summary: A well-written account of a dramatic true crime.

This is the story of a 1980 bank robbery in Norco, California. Committed by five men almost on a whim, this poorly planned robbery led to a terrifying car chase and fire fight. The chase was made particularly dangerous by the superior weapons possessed by the robbers. The subsequent trial was a huge spectacle. In several ways, it was less of a foregone conclusion than you might think. The relationship between attorneys was also incredibly
John Wood
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An amazing account of a bank heist that couldn't have gone more wrong. The robbers mixed drinking, doping and apocalyptic survivalist beliefs and came up with a plan. Horrible mix! They were armed for Fort Knox and didn't have any backup plan or checklist to assess whether or not to go ahead. The author offers a riveting account of the whole ordeal from planning thru sentencing. The robbers had all sorts of automatic weapons, homemade bombs, and even a Samurai sword. The police had their standar ...more
Lisa Cobb Sabatini
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I won an Advance Reading Copy of Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan from Goodreads.

Peter Houlahan takes readers step-by-step through the Norco bank robbery of 1980 and it's aftermath in his book, Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History. Introducing all the individuals involved, Houlahan helps readers to understand motivations, the interplay of experience and ideology, and individual viewp
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
AMAZING story - unfortunately, author isn't the best writer. He isn't bad but with such amazing source material that as far as I know about has never really been written about in book-length, he could have been so much better. Parts of the telling of the crime were really boring and really slow - too much detail about the guns, the bullets, the angles. A re-telling that should not have been boring at all became a little boring. For example, I bet Jeffrey Toobin would have written something amazi ...more
Thomas Kelley
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This follows a group of guys which includes two sets of brothers Norco California, May 1980 who is orchestrated by one George Wayne Smith who is a military veteran who believes that the apocalypse is coming the end of the world and in the aftermath the need to be a survivalist because people are going to come and take your guns, your food and anything else to survive. George knows he cannot stay in California and survive but you could survive in Utah or Colorado but you got to have money. This b ...more
Joe Cosentino
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow! All in all a really wild ride and I think an important read to provide historical context around timely issues of militarization of police, PTSD and its impact on police efficacy, and gun control more broadly.

The first third (~150 pages) recounts a 40 minute bank robbery and subsequent chase and firefight in harrowing detail. This is both exhilarating and exhausting, but a true achievement in writing nonetheless.

The rest of the book outlines the aftermath of the event, including the court
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I read this book in one 6 hour sitting. I simply couldn’t...and wouldn’t...put it down. The pace is mind boggling and the author does a great job of keeping the relevant but not getting bogged down during the trial portion (a la Errol Morris) and wraps it up tidily. There are a few slips from fact into opinion, especially in his attempt to defend Painter. Painter was fired appropriately and did do a great disservice to professional women. If we are demanding equality, then this author made
Jason Allison
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An exhaustive account of a 1980 California bank robbery gone wrong and the subsequent running gun battle between the perpetrators and police. The story is wild and compelling and Houlahan’s telling is raw and matter of fact. The latter portion of the book recounts the ridiculous trial that followed and conveys to those unacquainted with the legal system how incredibly complicated it can be to satisfactorily recount every detail in an event where bullets fly and decisions happen in fractions of s ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Norco ’80 is one hell-raising ride through 1970’s 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 heart-breaking turn of the page. It’s part law and part order and ...more
Tom Brennan
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Birthed in a distinctively curious milieu of poverty, survivalism, sign gifts, and eschatology, the story told here is all kinds of fascinating. The planning, the robbery, the pursuit, the capture, and the trial are all given full treatment. Along the way, Houlahan not only holds our interest but builds it. The characters described become old friends and foes to us. It is the kind of book where you cannot help but keep saying, "Wow!" to yourself as you hike along the trail listening to it. Where ...more
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn this is good. Things run together at times -- because that's what happened, not because of writer failings -- but Houlahan does a remarkable job of telling a harrowing story with immense sensitivity and respect for all involved, no matter their roles or attitudes. The fact that this is his first book makes it even more impressive, as does the patience and determination with which he approached the story, eventually succeeding in his goal to read every document and talk to virtually every pe ...more
Matt Chic
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
It was OK. And it was almost too detailed, but not in an interesting and informative way. So while appreciate Houlahan writing in a way that's supposed to put you "in the story" or whatever, I had a hard time buying most of it. Whether it's a meticulous account of every click of every gun or the tons the "dialogue" sans quotes, I just couldn't tell what came from actual fact and what came from his artistic writing licence. Wanted to like this, but it just didn't work for me.
Linda Rae
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a wild ride! This book grabs you in from the beginning planning phase through to the crime, chase and ultimately the courtroom saga. This is an example of truth being stranger than fiction , no one could make up the absurdity, horror and craziness that happened in Norco. I will say that there is A LOT of detail which sometimes makes the narrative confusing and makes it hard to keep all of the characters straight. Overall, if you like true crime, this book is a must.
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: summer-19
It was just ok. Longer than it really needed to be to still tell the story. The one thing I can say is that the bank robbery writing was graphic and you really felt it. I have PTSD from being in a mass shooting and I have nightmares the night after reading that part. It didn’t hit me while reading but obviously hit the sub conscious.
Tim Gillen
Enjoyed the book. I found the complete devastation from this motley crew to be astounding, as well as the impact that this event had on understanding and recognizing PTSD, and on the way that law enforcement is geared to protect in such events.
Chris Cole
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The action sequence in this book - the robbery and subsequent chase - are among the most well-written, intense chapters I’ve ever read. Outstanding piece of journalistic nonfiction. I’d never heard of Norco before this book, and now I can’t wait for the movie.
Dawn Giani
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book and writing. Fast moving and a real page turner. I grew up in Orange County, so there were many locations and events that I remember, and some I’d forgotten which brought back some memories of yesteryear.
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: edelweiss
Thank you for the ARC of this true crime title. I think I had seen a made-for-TV movie about this bank robbery a long time ago as the general arc of the story was familiar. True crime fans should like this although I was feeling bored/aggravated/disappointed in the courtroom sections, mainly due to the behaviors of those involved.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Norco ’80 is the true story of one of the most violent and dramatic bank robberies of all time. This well-researched, engaging recounting of what led to this brutal day, and the aftermath, is true crime at its best. Highly recommended.

Jamie Keck
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: botm
Amazing book. It kept the reader right in the action. I learned a lot about guns and the working of the police department. It's amazing how much things have changed in almost 40 years with issues like gun access.
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gruesome, violent and compelling!
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Peter Houlahan is a freelance writer contributing to a wide range of publications. In his career as an emergency medical technician, he has written a number of articles related to his profession. He holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. A native Southern Californian, Houlahan now lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

(source: Amazon)