Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole


Title: When No One Is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre / Themes: Thriller, Racism, Gentrification 
Release date: 01 September 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 2 Stars


Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?


I have enjoyed many of Alyssa Cole's romances and was curious to try her thriller debut but unfortunately it didn't work as well for me as I had hoped for. 

In this book Alyssa Cole has focused on topical issues in the American society - gentrification (in NY specifically), racism, police violence. It's goes in some dark places, both in present times and in history, with unflinching honesty and this is the element of the story I liked the most. 

I appreciate the premise of the book but I  felt the execution was far from perfect. The first part was too slow, too descriptive - we get to meet the MCs and see the attraction between them from the start; there are separate incidents happening in their neighbourhood but they didn't create the tension I  expect from a thriller.

We get a detailed presentation of some lesser known, even completely forgotten, history of Brooklyn and I quite like it but at the same time it felt heavy handed to me, like history lesson, not a book of genre fiction. 
The first half read like very much like a depressing litfic about two people going through rough times. I didn't feel a connection to either of the MCs and found their romance lackluster. Their relationship did have a prominent place in the story and as a romance reader this didn't bother me, what bothered me is that I was not convinced these two are good for each other.

The thriller aspect picked up in the final 35-40%, so much so that it went into wtf territory, too much was happening, some of it pretty unbelievable. I am willing to suspend believe in most of the romantic suspense and thrillers I read, I would have done the same here. But the first part of the book felt so realistic, more facts than fiction indeed, and then the final section of the story came completely at odds with it. 

The ending was totally anticlimactic and made no sense. We also got some loose threads that remained unresolved. Overall, it was a frustrating read for me. I would not recommend it but I have also seen lots of praise for it, so it might work better for other readers.

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