Title: When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Published: September 1, 2020 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Content Warnings: death, substance abuse, violence, killing
Copied from Goodreads
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?
Where do I even begin with this book? I mean first, this was unlike anything I could have expected but in the best ways. Gentrification but make it a thriller?? I’m obsessed! I was recommending this book to everyone when I wasn’t even finished with it yet–I knew it would be a hit.
This takes place in one neighborhood: Grifford Place in Manhattan, and we mainly stay inside Sydney’s–the MC’s–house. Being confined to a neighborhood and then a few houses made for a very suspenseful atmosphere. One the reader gets comfortable in the space, Cole starts to turn up the heat and start manipulating the environment, making us wonder if what we see is only half of what’s really happening.
We do get a look into a few different homes and businesses, which only add depth to the setting and plot as the questions about what is happening to make so many people just up and leave a wonderful neighbor intensify.
I never know how to explain when an author’s writing is really good/really bad. All I know is Cole’s writing just clicked for me from page one. She described things so vividly and created a lively neighborhood (that becomes less so by the end of the story) that I felt like I were apart of, too. The only way I could describe this would be when directors use golden light to create a sense of happiness in a scene and then the light switches to blues and greys to convey sadness/eeriness. Cole achieved that through her writing and I’m just geeking out because wow that’s so cool.
I know she’s primarily known for her romance novels, so Kind of SPOILER it makes sense that there was a two page sex scene thrown in there. Of course there was enough building tension to make it believable, however it didn’t really work for me (someone who loves romance and erotica). END SPOILER It felt really rushed and from the snippets of writing that I’ve read from her, it was definitely a bit weaker compared to some of her other writing. Since I know it only gets better from here, I’m really excited to read her backlist.
The ending also felt kind of thrown together? I’ll get into that more in a second but writing-wise, I found it hard to follow the action scenes as it felt like everything was happening all at once. We got this great build up to the end with tons of suspense and interwoven situations from both characters and maybe Cole didn’t know how to give the reader a proper payoff that’s suitable for all of the tension and suspense, because that ending felt all over the place. She did tie up all the loose ends, I did feel satisfied, but it felt really meh for me to read. I expected something just as grand from the ending as we got from the 3/4s of the novel leading up to it.
Sydney is a very strong willed and independent character that deals with grief and anxiety and eventually has to learn to rely on someone else. I love everything she stood for but I found her to be super abrasive at times when it wasn’t necessary. Maybe one of the reason she wasn’t my cup of tea was because a lot of her behavior I found mimicked my own (and it’s a tough pill to swallow seeing your own bad habits play out on paper and leaving a bad taste in your mouth). I loved her development, though, SPOILER-ISH and how she slowly came to trust Theo and others to help her with all that she was dealing with. END SPOILER
Theo seemed like a predictable character but he started to shed some skin and reveal all of the layers hidden underneath the nice neighbor exterior. He was a good character to root for, but with both MCs, I found their characterization a bit inconsistent (especially at the ending chapters).
Okay, the moment
no one we have all been waiting for. I love the plot of When No One Was Watching. I think it’s unique and current. The layers that Cole builds to create this struggle between two sides: the OG residents of Grifford Place and the newcomers/companies that seem to be invading the space and somehow making people disappear in order to acquire these properties.
It’s genius, really. The way Cole tied in actual instances of gentrification and turned up the heat to create an almost believable plot full of racially- and economically-motivated moves to dominate a neighborhood and eventually a city.
As I’ve mentioned a few (maybe more than a few) times, the ending was the only thing lacking for me. It was definitely A Lot and I’m not sure how else Cole could’ve even ended the novel without it being over the top, but it missed a lot of…oomph. The ending came and went and it wasn’t exactly fun to read or exciting, just like a wtf moment for a couple pages until you get to the very end. I expected something a little more engaging seeing as the rest of the book had me on the edge of my seat, and I was pretty disappointed that the ending fell so flat for me.
This was so good! Yes, there were a few things I didn’t enjoy as much as I wanted to, but this is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. I went into it with very little expectations or ideas about what would happen and was blown away. I highly recommend it.