Review: “When No One Is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

Release Date: September 1, 2020
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Thriller


“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 don’t read many thrillers. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I read one. But there is one thing that will get me to read outside my usual speculative fiction and romance fare: a great author. Having already indulged in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, the second I heard about her thriller I was eager to read it. I opted for the audiobook version narrated by  Susan Dalian and Jay Aaseng, and that was an excellent choice. Both have great voices and really played with the tension. I spent most of the audiobook muttering under my breath “mm-hmm!” and “oh shit!” and “girl, get outta there!” and “this bitch!” out loud, much to the annoyance of my coworkers.

Because I don’t read thrillers, I didn’t know what to expect from the genre (outside of the big, obvious points, of course). It made for a nice change of pace, even if I did keep forgetting it wasn’t a romance novel and getting annoyed that there wasn’t more making out. The mystery itself is pretty easy to figure out, but everything surrounding it is EXCELLENT. From the scathing commentary on gentrification and casual racism to the pitch perfect deployment of Karens and Beckys to the incisive way Cole calls out white allies who think saying they support BLM is the same as actually doing the work. Cole weaves in real history to ground the mystery while also stretching the truth into something almost science fictional by the end. 

Sydney and Theo are as complex and messy as Cole’s characters always are. Through Sydney we see the true price of gentrification and the tolls Black women must pay to exist in the western world. Through Theo we see whiteness as it moves from actor to ally to accomplice, in all its fits and starts. They, like the social commentary, cut deep layers into a straightforward mystery. It’s brilliant work from a true master of the craft. 

I’m still not convinced the thriller genre is one I’d like to keep exploring, but if Alyssa Cole wants to keep writing them, I’ll keep reading her stuff.

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3 thoughts on “Review: “When No One Is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

  1. Enjoyed the review. I probably won’t be reading this because I’m not big on thrillers, but I’ve been meaning to check out Alyssa Cole for a while. I really want to read Once Ghosted, Twice Shy or Radio Silence by her.

    Liked by 1 person

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