Before I get into the review itself I should mention that I’m not a true crime person, generally. True crime readers or podcast listeners would be more well-versed in how these books typically read or what kinds of details typically would be included in these kinds of stories. So, your mileage may vary. Ok, will all of that out of the way, here we go!
Peter Houlahan’s Norco ’80 is the true story of how five men tried to rob a California bank in 1980. More than that, its the story of how religious zealots, survivalists, idealists, and everyday blue-collar workers tried to make sense of the 1960s and beyond. While I had never heard of Norco or this 1980 bank robbery prior to reading this book, those few minutes in the bank and the ensuing chase afterwards continue to reverberate through America. In particular, the militarization of local law enforcement agencies’ arsenals and tactics impact all of us. Houlahan doesn’t quite name it (he mentions he intended this book to be apolitical), but it’s a very American story. Members of both bank robbing crew and the responding law enforcement agencies were military vets. They would’ve grown up in the 1950s and early 1960s, dealt with Vietnam, and then tried to come home to some kind of normalcy. Many of the central characters never found it.
What stands out the most to me is the senselessness of the robbery. So many lives were destroyed in the span of a couple of hours. At the same time, as mentioned above, decades of living led all parties to the few minutes of senselessness. Houlahan excels at highlighting that. The author spent four years, I believe, researching and interviewing, and it shows.
I recommend Norco ’80 to anyone interested in true crime, California crime, sociology, or law enforcement.