Book Reviews

The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw
Published by Hyperion
Hardcover / Page count: 432
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2416-2

 

“I doubt if even the best fiction writer could create a character like Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit. This is an incredible, but true story of chase-and-escape that will keep you on the edge of your seat —and almost make you root for ‘America’s Most Wanted Teen.’ Bob Friel is a gifted reporter and very fine writer.”

Nelson DeMille
New York Times bestselling author of The LionPlum Island, and Gold Coast.

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“It is Friel’s ability to spin a great yarn that draws the reader in from the start and never lets up. And he does it with deft reporting and a breezy and entertaining style that enlivens a tale as incredible as it is true.”

Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press (Full review below)

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“If you haven’t heard of Colton Harris-Moore yet, gather ’round and Bob Friel will tell you the best story you’ve heard in awhile. Captivating… …meticulously researched… … a page-turner… … it’s hard to imagine anyone doing the job better than Bob Friel in this true-crime classic.”

“Friel was uniquely qualified to tell this story… he observed first hand what Colt did to communities, understood the socially stratified resort setting that created him, and was connected to all the key sources for the story.”

Andrew Travers, Aspen Daily News (Full review below)

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Friel offers a thrilling portrait of a bright and neglected teen trying to outrun authorities and his own troubled past.

—Booklist (Full review below)

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“Something about Colton Harris-Moore —crafty stealer of cars, boats, and airplanes—captured the fascination of our fast-moving country. But it took Bob Friel, a plucky reporter with a pitch-perfect story sense, to chase down the legend and make it real. In Friel’s fine telling, the Barefoot Bandit emerges as both villain and folk hero in a thrilling modern fugitive tale.”

Hampton Sides
New York Times bestselling author of Hellhound on His TrailBlood & Thunder, and Ghost Soldiers.

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Friel’s story of Colton Harris-Moore, aka the Barefoot Bandit, reads like something out of the Wild West … readers will relish this cinematic tale of an inspired teenaged fugitive.

Publisher’s Weekly (Full review below)

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Friel offers a thrilling portrait of a bright and neglected teen trying to outrun authorities and his own troubled past.

—Booklist (Full review below)

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Even though I live in the Seattle area, I had no idea of the full extent of Colton’s spree until I read this book. …a one of a kind adventure, and Bob Friel has done a great job in capturing it.

Greg Barbrick, BlogCritics

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“A remarkable crime saga…”

Kirkus Reviews

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“Colton Harris-Moore’s short but impressive crime spree—it ended before he turned 18—is truly the stuff of legend. A bright boy growing up in a dirt-poor home, he focused on his three great loves: airplanes, wilderness survival, and the adrenaline rush of crime.

His first crimes were low-key—breaking into homes and stealing food, taking cars for joy-rides, etc.—but his offenses became more serious, expanding to include identity, boat, and airplane theft. His crime spree was a source of embarrassment to local authorities and of sneaking admiration from area antiauthoritarian sympathizers. Eventually caught in the Bahamas, where he had crashed a stolen airplane, Harris-Moore was sentenced to over seven years in prison and awaits sentencing on further charges.

Freelance writer and photographer Friel lives on Orcas Island (a part of the San Juan Islands, located in the northwestern corner of Washington State), near the Barefoot Bandit’s home territory, and his account of the teenage terror of the coast is compelling. This highly entertaining story of a modern-day Huck Finn will be enjoyed by lovers of adventure stories as well as true crime.”

—Library Journal

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Failed by his alcoholic mother and the child-welfare system, a teenage Colton Harris-Moore taught himself to survive in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. He also taught himself to fly airplanes and sailboats that he stole and used to escape when his career as a burglar, searching for food, tools, and computer equipment, brought him to the attention of the juvenile authorities and police.

On the run for two years after escaping from juvenile prison, he led police, Homeland Security, and the FBI on a chase through isolated islands and wooded areas of Washington State and Canada before striking out cross-country and ending up in the Bahamas.

Friel, a travel writer and blogger living on one of the islands targeted by Harris-Moore, chronicles his exploits and the cult fanship that developed as teens followed their idol online and his publicity-hungry mother taunted the would-be captors. Against a backdrop of the wilderness populated by survivalists, Friel offers a thrilling portrait of a bright and neglected teen trying to outrun authorities and his own troubled past.

—Booklist

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 “Bob Friel’s new book, The Barefoot Bandit, is one of the finest and most entertaining true crime books that I’ve read in a long, long time.”

Dispatches

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“A Dillinger-esque tale for our current Great Recession era. Friel not only gives a brilliantly clear-eyed look at a bandit’s adventures but also the effects it had on his peaceful community.”

Matthew Polly
Bestselling author of American Shaolin

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“Riveting, thorough, and deeply human, this terrific read doesn’t just tell the story – it brings it to life.”

Markus Sakey
Bestselling author of The Two Deaths of Daniel HayesGood People, and The Blade Itself.

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Chicago Sun-Times

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Islands Magazine

The broad strokes are indelible: Teenager eludes authorities for two years—stealing cars, boats, even planes.

In The Barefoot BanditISLANDS contributor Bob Friel didn’t just report on Colton Harris-Moore’s crime spree; he lived it. Bob is a resident of the San Juan Islands, Colton’s home and the place where he escalated from local nuisance to international outlaw. The vulnerabilities of small island communities, the resilience of a bright but troubled teen and the failure of a child-welfare system are told from the inside as this page-turner unfolds. Did Colton really re-steal a bike from the police to return it to its owner? How did he teach himself to fly? Why flee to the Bahamas?

Exclusive interviews with his mom, victims and friends reveal the true Barefoot Bandit, and a life of missed potential. But boy, what a ride.

Eddy Patricelli, Islands Magazine

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New York Post  March 18, 2012, three-page feature in the Sunday book review section.

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Full Associated Press review by Jerry Harkavy

“It’s not often that a travel and adventure writer who hopscotches the globe for good stories stumbles upon a riveting tale on his own doorstep, especially when he lives on a sparsely populated island in the far reaches of Washington state’s Puget Sound.

But when teenage outlaw Colton Harris-Moore, whose thievery ranged from Snickers bars and frozen pizzas to expensive boats and planes, unleashed his “wily one-kid crime wave” on Orcas Island, it would have been impossible for a writer like Friel not to realize that a world-class story had landed in his lap.

Harris-Moore was captured in the Bahamas after nearly two years on the lam, and his saga ended early this year when a federal judge in Seattle sentenced him to 6 1/2 years in prison. But the public’s fascination with the outlaw who was dubbed “the Barefoot Bandit” is sure to continue, fueled by Friel’s book and a planned Hollywood movie.

The reader is introduced to the 17-year-old protagonist during his white-knuckle flight in a stolen Cessna 182 over the jagged peaks of the Cascades while knocked about by 60 mph winds and sought by law enforcement. Being alone in the cockpit and lacking any official flight training add to the sense of adventure.

He survived that and other brushes with mortality recounted by Friel, who chronicles the string of Northwest larcenies and incarcerations that culminated in a cross-country run and Harris-Moore’s capture at sea. Even as he becomes the object of a nationwide manhunt, the gangly 6-foot-5 youth comes across as more Huck Finn than John Dillinger. Indeed, Friel’s account of Harris-Moore’s miserable upbringing cannot help but evoke sympathy, even in the face of his succession of bad decisions.

“This was a kid, an outcast, who’d been bullied and beaten, forgotten and failed, expelled, medicated, incarcerated and seemingly doomed to society’s lowest rung,” writes Friel of the abused and neglected youth who took on a feral streak from spending much of the time alone in the woods near his mother’s trailer.

Throughout it all, Harris-Moore nurtured a dream of becoming a pilot. His computer skills, intuitive intelligence and studies of flight manuals served him well when he took to the air. His brazen burglaries at houses, airplane hangars and marinas, usually carried out while shoeless, outwitted police and won him the support of countless fans who trumpeted his exploits on the Internet and wore T-shirts celebrating his lawlessness.

“Colt’s combination of twenty-first-century tech savviness and nineteenth-century outlaw cojones came together to create a remarkably effective criminal,” Friel writes.

The author seems to have been destined to tell this story. He lives, after all, on the island where Harris-Moore became notorious for his larcenous ways. The travel writer was also well acquainted with Eleuthera, the island paradise where the young outlaw made his last stand.

But those were just lucky coincidences. It is Friel’s ability to spin a great yarn that draws the reader in from the start and never lets up. And he does it with deft reporting and a breezy and entertaining style that enlivens a tale as incredible as it is true.

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Full Aspen Daily News review by Andrew Travers
If you haven’t heard of Colton Harris-Moore yet, gather ‘round and Bob Friel will tell you the best story you’ve heard in awhile.

This is the outlandish tale of a brazen teen on a two-year crime spree, who stole five private airplanes — with pilot training cribbed from Internet tutorials — and countless cars, broke into hundreds of homes and broke out of a juvenile prison to live by his wits in the woods.

Harris-Moore led authorities on a chase from his native island on coastal Washington state to the Bahamas, where he was captured last year, shoeless as he’d been for most of his capers.

It’s all detailed in Friel’s captivating new book, “The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw.”

Moore turned 21, in a Washington prison, two days after the book’s March release.

Instead of simply burnishing the legend, though, Friel’s meticulously researched account tells a complicated and nuanced story that paint’s “Colt” in shades of moral gray.

A child of abuse, the kid emerges as a sympathetic character, though less sympathetic than the hundreds of people who had their homes burgled or their planes flown away in the night and crash-landed into the woods.

“This was a kid,” Friel writes, “an outcast, who’d been bullied and beaten, forgotten and failed, expelled, medicated, incarcerated, and seemingly doomed to society’s lowest rung.”

Friel incisively tells how the Barefoot Bandit legend spread, and attempts to explain our attraction to him. Of course, Harris-Moore can be easy to root for. He’s an audodidactic criminal mastermind whose life on the lam served as an escape from an abusive, alcoholic home life with a single mother. His crimes were all non-violent. And, of course, he had a millenial’s flair for narcissistic self-promotion.

As the spree went on, and Colt’s story spread around the country — aided largely by a 2010 Outside magazine article and blog by Friel — the kid became a folk hero, an heir to John Dillinger and Billy the Kid. By the time of his capture, Harris-Moore had a Facebook fan page that counted 100,000 members (full disclosure: I was among them).

His “Catch Me If You Can” adventures dripped with the brand of gunslinger charm we love here in the West. Friel dubs him “the new millennium’s ballsiest outlaw,” but also tells of the kid vacuuming carpets and making beds in the vacation homes he squats in, helping animals along the way, and never turning to drugs and alcohol.

He compares Colt’s increasingly elaborate misadventures to the challenges of a video game, casting the Barefoot Bandit as a gamer always trying to beat the next level.

About halfway through the book, as Friel learns more and more about Colt, he admits: “I was hooked.”

Yet he makes the narrative choice to spend most of the first 90 pages of the book focused on Colt’s victims. While many Barefoot Bandit fans might write off his rampant, recalcitrant thefts as harmless property crimes against people who had insurance or money, Friel makes clear this wasn’t always the case.

Friel was uniquely qualified to tell this story. A year before Colt began terrorizing Washington’s Orcas Island, Friel moved there. A travel and adventure writer, he observed first hand what Colt did to communities, understood the socially stratified resort setting that created him, and was connected to all the key sources for the story.

As much as the book chronicles Colt’s derring-do, it paints a damning picture of the ineptitude of local police — and later federal authorities — to capture the barefoot teenager. At one point, the book includes a farcical scene of 35 different agencies on Orcas, including the FBI and Homeland Security, with SWAT teams and blackhawk helicopters, unable to find a shoeless kid in the woods.

Most powerfully, Friel shows how Colt ended an age of innocence for the island communities he struck. Much like Colorado’s mountain towns, these were quiet and trusting places where people didn’t bother with the usual precautions against getting robbed.

“We started taking the keys out of our cars and locking the house overnight,” Friel writes with sadness as Colt’s spree continued, “just like back in the city.”

While this book is a page-turner, Friel’s prose is occasionally cringe-inducing. Readers may forgive the author for his multiple Goldilocks references, as Colt breaks into houses and quite literally eats people’s porridge. But grating, forced similes like describing a pilfered ATM as looking “like R2D2 after being humped by a Transformer” or an antipsychotic drug Colt was briefly prescribed as “strong enough to chillax a rampaging water buffalo” never should have made it passed an editor.

What we don’t get much of is Colt explaining himself. Friel didn’t interview him for the book, and he implies that the Barefoot Bandit is holding out for a big interview payday. Though the terms of his prison sentence bar him from profiting from his story, he can sell it to pay the $1 million-plus he owes to his victims.

This won’t be the last time somebody sings the ballad of the Barefoot Bandit, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing the job better than Bob Friel in this true-crime classic.

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Veteran travel writer Friel’s story of Colton Harris-Moore, aka the Barefoot Bandit, reads like something out of the Wild West, complete with an old-fashioned nom de guerre, cross-country chases, and a harrowing shootout in the middle of the night. But the fruits of Harris-Moore’s efforts mark his story as that of a distinctly modern outlaw.

A neglected, precocious teen growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Harris-Moore looted houses for cash, computers, and junk food, sometimes doing his laundry in victims’ homes. However, when a Cessna goes missing, authorities realize their local bandit has greater aspirations, and they have a much bigger problem on their hands.

Friel’s geographical proximity to the epicenter of Harris-Moore’s crimes makes him a well-suited narrator for this compelling procedural. Interviews with locals, as well as Harris-Moore’s mother and childhood friends, paint a picture of a shy outsider who spent much of his life fending for himself.

Friel traces his criminal evolution with a journalistic eye for detail, covering every crime Harris-Moore committed during his lengthy spree. He would go on to cause thousands of dollars in damage before finally being apprehended on a boat in the Bahamas.

Friel is a gifted writer, and though the narrative occasionally gets repetitive, patient readers will relish this cinematic tale of an inspired teenaged fugitive. Others might prefer to wait for the movie adaptation–the rights have been purchased.

Publisher’s Weekly