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Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan
True crime

Norco '80


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Peter Houlahan, on your first book!

by Peter Houlahan

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Quick take

The deadly story of a robbery gone south.


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 changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, Norco ’80 transports the reader back to the Southern California of the 1970s, an era of predatory evangelical gurus, doomsday predictions, megachurches, and soaring crime rates, with the threat of nuclear obliteration looming over it all.

A group of landscapers transforms into a murderous gang of bank robbers armed to the teeth with military-grade weapons. Their desperate getaway turned the surrounding towns into war zones. When it was over, three were dead and close to twenty wounded; a police helicopter was forced down from the sky, and thirty-two police vehicles were destroyed by thousands of rounds of ammo. The resulting trials shook the community to the core, raising many issues that continue to plague society today: from racism and the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder within law enforcement to religious extremism and the militarization of local police forces.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Norco '80.
Norco '80


1973. Orange County, California.

The bus came up over the rise and then descended toward the cove of white sand, the Pacific Ocean shimmering blue-gray in the afternoon sun. The youngsters inside the bus had been singing one of their favorite songs, but their voices burst into a cheer when they saw the scene below. They were everywhere, hundreds of them, gathered on the cropping of rocks that jutted out into the ocean and on the sandstone bluffs ringing the cove at Corona del Mar. A smattering had waded out into the gentle surf lapping at the sheltered beach, some with their hands lifted to the sky. A young girl gasped. Praise God, praise God, she repeated breathlessly, overcome with joy at the sight of it.

They were for the most part a young crowd in their teens and twenties. The boys wore their hair past the collar with long sideburns, many with beards and mustaches. For the girls, the look was still “natural,” light on the makeup, hair swept back on the sides in wings or like Ali MacGraw in Love Story, long, ironed straight, and parted down the middle. The dress was relatively conservative for the times, but still plenty of flared bell-bottoms, macramé belts, cutoff jeans, hillbilly hats, and colorfully embroidered peasant tops. They stood in groups or sat on towels facing the ocean, some of the boys with their shirts off taking in the sun. Seen from a distance, they had the appearance of a crowd at a James Taylor concert. Only the banner stretched between two wooden poles like a makeshift volleyball net gave away the true nature of the gathering: GOD’S FOREVER FAMILY.

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Why I love it

A band of reckless outsiders. A cache of automatic weapons. A stick-up gone wrong and a days-long, shoot-out. Welcome to Norco, California, circa 1980—site of one of the most violent bank robberies in U.S. history.

May 9, 1980. Five homegrown terrorists armed with a small arsenal of military-grade guns and handmade explosives stormed the city branch of Security Pacific Bank. A ragtag group of drug dealers, doomsdayers, and firearm enthusiasts, they had neither the brains nor the bravado to pull off a heist, and so, shortly after entering the bank, everything went wrong. This is the rough and tumble story, from the basement planning sessions to the high-speed police chase, right down to the drama in the courtroom, of that bloody event.

A history lesson rendered in technicolor, Norco ‘80 brings you so close to the action you can hear the rat-a-tat of the machine guns in the San Bernardino Mountains shoot-out. More interestingly, Peter Houlahan draws back the curtain on the complicated motives behind the robbery as well as the horrific aftershocks still felt within the Norco community today. Not just the play-by-play of a tragedy, Norco ‘80 is the story of an entire culture in limbo.

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Member ratings (525)

  • Ryan L.

    Austin, TX

    What a thrilling read! I like true crime more than I like to admit. The book drew me in from planning to the chase to the trial. It was fun to watch a true story I was unfamiliar with unfold. Read it!

  • Karen Q.

    Montgomery , AL

    An unbelievable true story that will make your jaw drop. This book walks you through the planning stages, the bank heist, and the trial of the Norco bank robbers of 1980. Well written & entertaining!

  • Meghan N.

    Peoria, AZ

    Loved, loved, loved! This was so cleverly written, I was hooked from the first page. This story is so unbelievable I found myself audibly gasping and in pure amazement - especially during the trial.

  • Homer S.

    Houston, TX

    About a hundred pages in, I had to tell a friend about the adrenaline rush of a book I was reading. I even bought him a copy, maybe to confirm that yes, non-fiction can be this much of a thrill!

  • Sarah K.

    Indian Trail, NC

    Was fascinated with this book. Maybe because i am in the banking industry but this robbery really takes you on a thrill ride not knowing what was coming next! Definitely a page turner!!!

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