Friday, March 16, 2012

'The Barefoot Bandit' details our generation's most unusual outlaw

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.

Set to be released this coming Tuesday by Hyperion, “The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw” gives us the details behind one of our generation’s most unusual criminals, Colton Harris-Moore.

In the book’s 432 pages, Friel gives us an in-depth look into the life of Harris-Moore, aka “Colt.” Colt grew up poor on an island in the Pacific Northwest, not far from Seattle. His mother was an abusive alcoholic, and his father figures included her numerous ex-con boyfriends.

Colt didn’t do well in school, but he was fascinated by airplanes and aviation. Although he never took a single flying less, he taught himself to fly using computer programs like Microsoft Flight Simulator. He went on to grab national and international headlines when he went on a 27-month crime spree in which he stole at least five airplanes.

To avoid arrest at airports, he managed to land all of these planes in out of the way places where it would be hard for authorities to get to him in time. For months, the 6-foot-5 Colt made fools of the local authorities as he managed to avoid their best efforts to arrest him. Federal authorities, including the FBI and Homeland Security, got involved, and he also managed to avoid them as he hopped from state to state during the nationwide manhunt for the teen.

Named “America’s Most Wanted Teen” by Time magazine, Colt was eventually arrested in July 2011 by police and military officials in the Bahamas as he tried to escape to another island by boat. He ran aground in shallow water at low tide and only gave up after officials shot up his boat. In January, Colt, age 20, was sentenced to 6-1/2 years in federal prison for his crimes.

The book also details how Colt earned his nickname, “The Barefoot Bandit.” In addition to being an aircraft thief, Colt was also an accomplished burglar. Believing that he could move silently and run faster without shoes, Colt committed most of his break-ins barefooted. He was exceptionally skilled at avoiding and disarming sophisticated, commercial security systems, but he often left his footprints behind for police to find.

Friel, a professional journalist and award-winning writer, does a good job of letting readers know that Colt was no run-of-the-mill crook. Colt was a James Bond/Jason Bourne-type character, who remained on the run much longer than the average criminal would have. He also avoided drugs and alcohol and often took nothing more than a shower and food during his burglaries.

In the end, I really enjoyed “The Barefoot Bandit” and would recommend it to anyone in the audience with a taste for a fine, true crime book about a truly unusual criminal. The book will be officially released this coming Tuesday and will be available in bookstores and through such online retailers as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Hardcover editions of the book will retail for $25.99.

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