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Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History
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Group Read - Norco 80 > Group Read - Norco 80 ch 1-5 Spoilers Welcome

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Ann (annrumsey) | 14693 comments Topic thread for the group read discussion for chapters 1-5 of Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American Historyby Peter Houlahan.
Spoilers welcome, if the first to post please briefly summarize to guide the discussion.


Sandi (sandin954) | 1220 comments Author’s Note

The author sets the stage by going over how the decade of the seventies shaped the world view of the young men who decide to turn to robbing banks.

Prologue

George Smith, a conflicted young man, is baptized.

Chapters 1 - 2

At their home in Mira Loma, George Smith and Chris Harven prepare for Doomsday. They need money desperately and George comes up with a plan to rob a bank and Chris reluctantly agrees. They stockpile lots of high powered weapons.

The Gang

George Smith - the leader who sincerely believes the end of the World is imminent. George played varsity tennis, was a member of the chess club, and was editor of the school newspaper in high school. He joined the Army and served with distinction in Germany but also has gone thru two wives and after working a number of years with the City Parks department is now unemployed and smokes a lot of dope.

Chris Harven - former coworker of Smith’s who barely made it thru high school and was drafted by the Army but was thrown out in two months. Main preoccupation is smoking dope but also has an interest in survivalism and guns. Chris also has an ex-wife and child but lost his Municipal job so is in financial straits.

Russell Harven - younger brother of Chris. Still lives with his parents and does nothing all day but smoke weed and look at Playboys. Goes along with the plan since he does not have much else to do. Not the brightest bulb, a diabetic with terrible eating habits.

Manny Delgado - co-worker of Chris and George. Small but tough kid from the Barrio. Only 21.

Billy Delgado - Manny’s younger brother. Has Rheumatoid Arthritis that Doctors think will rob him of his ability to walk by age 25.

Chris and George train the others with the guns and they get ready to rob the bank.

Chapter 3

Introduces the various policemen who work for the Riverside Sheriff’s Office (RSO) with a focus on Andy Delgado whose background made him more likely to be one of the criminals than a policeman. The RSO patrols a huge area that though near Los Angeles was really rather rural and Norco was known as Horsetown USA.

Chapter 4

The would be robbers hijack a van and take a small business owner hostage. They almost decide to call the whole thing off because of police presence near the bank but decide to go ahead. Everything goes pear shaped pretty early because of a combination of bad planning and bad luck. They end up taking way too long at the bank.

Chapter 5

The police get the call that a bank robbery is in process and then all hell breaks loose. Lots of gunfire and violence and a number of the responding police are shot. Also shot in the melee is Billy Delgado who is driving the van. The gang has to abandon the van and hijack a Ford F-250 pickup and try to shoot their way out of town.


Sandi (sandin954) | 1220 comments I am listening to the audio version and, like Russ stated, after the rather long author's note and prologue the action really picked up and I got caught up in the story.

I was struck by how easily the robbers accumulated such high powered weapons though it would probably be just as easy today. I also was amazed that the death toll has not been that high yet considering how much shooting was going on and all the bystanders in the area.


Barbara K | 414 comments First of all, great summaries, Sandi, especially considering you’re listening, not reading. Asa fellow listener, I’m impressed.

Another listener-related observation: it took me a while to accept that there was a guy named Delgado with the good guys AND with the bad guys. And one named Manny and one named Andy, which sounds very similar on audio.


Sandi (sandin954) | 1220 comments Barbara wrote: "First of all, great summaries, Sandi, especially considering you’re listening, not reading. As a fellow listener, I’m impressed.

Another listener-related observation: it took me a while to accept ..."


Not that impressive. To help with the summaries I downloaded the e-book edition from Hoopla mainly because of the Delgado issue. I wanted to make sure the names really were the same.

The rest of the policemen are kind of blurring together for me so far but hopefully they will become more distinct in later chapters.


Russ | 331 comments Sandi wrote: "Chapter 3 Introduces the various policemen who work for the Riverside Sheriff’s Office (RSO) with a focus on Andy Delgado..."

Yes, "various" is a good way to put it. It was a little hard to keep track of in that chapter. And what struck my is that Andy Delgado thus far does not seem as pivotal to the robbery as Officer Bolasky, who I don't remember being described in detail before he shows up on the scene.

And it's Bolasky who seemed to play the most remarkable role in a horrifying (but thrilling as a reader) fire fight immediately following the robbery. It amazed me how Bolasky managed to respond so quickly even though he was already nearby, get down in time when the robbers opened fire, evade serious injury at first, successfully reverse his patrol car while lying flat in the front seats, then get out of the car and return fire to fatally injure one of the perpetrators, single-handedly destroying the robbers' chance of a quick getaway, all while calling in succinct, lucid reports across the police radio! Bolasky didn't seem to be seriously injured until after backup began to arrive, and even then he continued to return fire and play a role in his own evacuation from the scene.

The robbery and the ensuing action was quite gripping to watch unfold!


message 7: by Ann (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann (annrumsey) | 14693 comments I’ve just finished chapter 5 and I am riveted by.... the audio narration! I had previously said the audio didn’t wow me and picked up a kindle loan too. Then after a day or two of decompression from my last British accent narration I was happily listening to Norco. (Typical for me, my ear settles in after a breaking in period)

Sandi: thanks for suggesting and summarizing this book. I am so glad to be reading it.
The descriptions of the setting, general mindset, and era are of great interest and the bank robbery itself is chilling in the violence planned (a gas main explosion !) and armed for (crazy bombs and even a sword!) and executed. I am also surprised at the extreme number of rounds fired by these otherwise not well prepared bank robbers.
Firepower doesn’t determine how much money is available based on bad timing; and poor execution of the exit strategy is definitely a downside.
The disregard for endangering others and malicious intent to kill is horrifying, but as Russ said, quite exciting to read.


message 8: by Ann (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann (annrumsey) | 14693 comments Sandi: I can see the names would be next to impossible to grasp accurately from the audio. There are similar sounding names like the plethora of Delgado’s, and apparently two sets of brothers doubling up the Harvens.
Barbara: Lol yes, it was jarring to try to sort them out but I suppose the names are the names, no matter the similarities, in a true story

Barbara wrote: “ it took me a while to accept that there was a guy named Delgado with the good guys AND with the bad guys.”


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