... gripping ... Houlahan proves to be a master at pacing — he writes with a narrative urgency that perfectly captures the quick and chaotic nature of the robbery. His prose incorporates the vernacular of the officers and criminals; it's hard-boiled, shot through with profanity, but never forced. It reads like a crime novel in the best way possible. But what's truly remarkable about the book is the depth Houlahan brings to the story. Norco '80 isn't just a play-by-play account of the crime, as shocking as it was — he takes several deep dives into subjects related to the robbery ... Perhaps most interesting, however, is his look at the post-traumatic stress that the surviving officers were forced to endure ... With his first book, Houlahan proves himself to be an astonishingly gifted writer, breathing urgent life into a true story that still resonates today. Norco '80 is a fascinating true-crime account that seems likely to be one of the best nonfiction books of the year.
For a first-time writer, Houlahan sure knows how to dramatize a scene. His cinematic treatment of the robbery itself reads like wildfire, the fatal shootout with the police ends in colorful chaos, and the huge manhunt through San Bernardino National Forest conducted by 'Hunt & Kill Teams' is a nail-biter ... But for my money, there’s nothing quite as unnerving as the meticulously detailed descriptions of the military-grade weaponry put into action throughout the story ... Gun control, anyone?
Houlahan’s debut is remarkable for the exhaustive, sometimes exhausting level of detail he brings to every stage of the story, transforming a pulpy true-crime narrative into a reflection of social transformations and class conflict as the countercultural 1970s faded into the Reagan era ... Houlahan’s writing is dense, sometimes colloquial, well-researched, and mostly clear. While his enthusiastic focus on details of the hardscrabble region’s history, characters’ social backgrounds, the botched robbery and its bloody aftermath, the weapons and tactics used by both sides, and finally the long-term changes in policing can occasionally overwhelm, most readers will stay engrossed ... An impressively well-rendered true-crime saga.
Vague sourcing and fictionalization mar EMT Houlahan’s otherwise promising first book ... an author note on sources, in which he says, 'Everything presented, whether in dialogue or narrative, is as factual as I could determine based on a wide range of sources,' does nothing to reassure readers that he has not used dramatic license elsewhere. That Houlahan writes well suggests he’s capable of doing better next time.