Friday, June 28, 2019

Peter Houlahan's "Norco ’80"

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.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History, and reported the following:
Central to the story of Norco ‘80 is the scope and devastation of the bank robbery, pursuit and gun battles between five heavily-armed criminals and dozens of severely outgunned deputies. What turned into a 40 mile, one hour running gunbattle began with a ferocious firefight of almost unimaginable intensity in the middle of a crowded Southern California intersection in front of the bank. Over the course of just four minutes so much occurred involving so many people that I devoted over 10,000 words to describing the action and human drama that unfolded in that short period of time. Page 99 of Norco ‘80 is an inventorying of that devastation at the conclusion of that chapter.
There were bullet holes everywhere—forty-six having hit Bolasky’s car alone, several in each of Hille’s and Andy Delgado’s units, one in Darryel Tygart’s Thunderbird, another in Chris Evans’s El Camino, and more in civilian vehicles abandoned or parked in nearby lots. Six rounds had whistled through the walls of Murphy’s Hay & Grain and another through the radiator of an employee’s truck parked out front. Others went into houses, cars, sheds, and storefronts. In the row of apartments just behind the bank, John Leighton herded his family to a back room after a bullet smashed through a bedroom window, cutting a metal lamp in half.
At the heart of any story is the human drama contained within. The lives of many of the officers involved in Norco were devastated by post-traumatic stress disorder. Friendships were torn apart, marriages ended, careers ruined in the aftermath of the event in which three were killed, fifteen wounded including seven officers, and thirty-three law enforcement vehicles destroyed by gunfire and homemade fragmentation grenades thrown by the fleeing bank robbers. Out of this initial, short confrontation in front of the bank – one of five major conflicts between the two sides – arose one of the most volatile of those conflicts among the three officers who took part, one of whom accused the other two of leaving him alone in the gunfight to die.

It was important to communicate to the reader the terrifying nature of the event and the weapons involved – military grade, semi-automatic assault rifles – right from the first conflict in order for what later happens to those involved to make any sense. This summarization is critical to providing the reader with a perspective on the relentless action they have just spent 25 pages reading.
Visit Peter Houlahan's website.

Writers Read: Peter Houlahan.

--Marshal Zeringue