4 stars. Triggers for racism, white supremacy, gaslighting, racial violence, poverty/debt, death of a loved one, housing insecurity, gentrification.
Alyssa Cole is a huge favorite of mine. Her romances are so much fun (and quite steamy), so when I saw she was coming out with a thriller I knew I needed to pick it up asap. That combined with the pitch of Rear Window meets Get Out…my excitement cannons were blasting! And let me just tell you, When No One Is Watching lives up to the excitement. It’s all the good stuff: excellent writing, rich and relatable characters, intrigue, thrills, romance, concise and relevant social commentary. But it’s also incredibly anxiety inducing, because it is so real.
Sydney Green has returned home to her mother’s Brooklyn brownstone after surviving a horrible marriage full of gaslighting and abuse. She was hopeful that the presence of her mother, best friend, and beloved neighborhood would offer her the love and support she needed to heal and thrive, but with her mother’s failing health and the predatory gentrification exploding around her, Sydney feels her life is spiraling out of her control.
As neighbors and familiar businesses start disappearing suddenly without a word, only to be replaced by white yuppies and their over-priced boutiques, Sydney starts to think there is a larger nefarious conspiracy going on…or is she going crazy? Everything happening around her goes against everything she’s known about her neighbors and herself, and when she can’t buy cigarettes or take an Uber without being directly or indirectly threatened by mysterious white people, how can she take action to discover what exactly is going on in her neighborhood?
It turns out that Sydney is not crazy at all. Something evil and insidious is happening, and Sydney might be her neighborhood’s last hope. Luckily she has a bit of help along the way from an unlikely source.
When No One Is Watching sheds a bright light on predatory and targeted gentrification and systemic racism and white supremacy. I live in a very gentrified city, and as I was reading this book I was thinking about the people I know who have been evicted from their homes that they’ve lived in for 15+ years, or folks who can’t afford to stay in a neighborhood that, for generations, meant home and community for them. All so that the Whole Foods can move to a larger lot. I even wondered about my own apartment building and neighbors. It was definitely hard to read some parts of this book, because it just felt so real.
While When No One Is Watching is not horror in the fantastical sense, it certainly is in the realistic sense. This is real life horror. Cole’s humor and style of writing make the book entertaining and exciting to read, but you would be wrong in thinking that When No One Is Watching isn’t making a clear statement. For people who are trying to understand more about systemic racism (as we all should be), this would be a good book to pick up followed closely by The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. I look forward to more thrillers by Alyssa Cole!
Out 9/1/20. Thank you to Netgalley and William Morrow Paperbacks / HarperCollins Publishers for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.