By now, many will have seen When No One Is Watching described as Rear Window meets Get Out. Those comparisons are shockingly apt. Alyssa Cole’s latest triumph incorporates elements of both psychological thriller and social horror. Its finale is a bit macabre, much like Get Out, and there is a romantic subplot as well, just as there was in Hitchcock’s masterpiece ... highly original ... Perhaps the best evidence of Cole’s skill in this regard is the remarkable correspondence between a fictional event in the book and a real-life incident that occurred just miles away from where the book is set ... Another element that distinguishes When No One Is Watching is its grounding in not just present-day politics but history.
...a searing indictment of the inseparable evils of racism and gentrification wrapped in an anxiety-inducing thriller with elements of romance and horror ... Cole expertly layers plot twists, raising the stakes until the dramatic finale, and readers will cheer when the real heroes are revealed.
Alyssa Cole is best known for her wildly popular and award-winning romances—quick pause to strenuously recommend her Reluctant Royals series—but When No One is Watching proves she’s a master at crafting spine-chilling thrillers, too ... Few stories have felt so real, so visceral, or so disturbing ... Readers of color will find themselves nodding in agreement and wincing in empathy for Sydney. Performative allyship is ruthlessly skewered as the rotten heart of racism is revealed behind smiling white faces, and Cole makes a special point to shine a light on white women’s contributions to the deadly status quo ... It’s one of the most relevant modern horror stories I’ve encountered, with killer prose, vibrant characters, razor-sharp societal commentary, and a knockout of a finale.
... timely and sinister ... an expertly crafted thriller that succeeds on almost every level. Cole manages to unpack centuries of American history in a way that is neither boring nor distracting, and somehow, at the same time, she weaves a sinister and horrifying novel that is terrifying in its familiarity. She spaces out her reveals tremendously well, with one coincidence after another popping up to terrorize Sydney --- first slowly, and then building in frequency until even Sydney herself feels like a crazed conspiracy theorist. But her paranoia is rooted in something painfully real, and even as she questions herself, readers will see that there is a lot at play behind the scenes ... Though it should never fall on Black writers to educate and enlighten us, Cole takes on this task bravely and unapologetically, demanding that her white readers open their eyes to see how easily racism and greed can hide in plain sight, and how systems like gentrification, prisons and even banks have been stealing and benefiting from people of color for centuries. Even those who consider themselves aware and allied to the cause of Black empowerment will be made uncomfortable when reading When No One is Watching, and that is truly a gift from Cole, who somehow manages to make you turn pages at lightning speed, even when you are sitting in your own feelings of discomfort and guilt. Combining the act of self-reflection with literal fear really drives her themes home and makes you think ... Though it was excellent and truly genre-defining for about 80% of the book, the last 20% fell apart for me, pacing-wise. She writes such credible characters and sets the scene so masterfully that it was disappointing to see the conclusion come so quickly and with so many questions left unresolved. When No One is Watching is absolutely chilling, and though I did not expect Cole to answer every question, the otherwise magnificent plot felt deserving of so much more than a rushed ending ... That said, 80% of an informative and simultaneously hair-raising thriller is more than we often get from even the best suspense writers, and the ending is by no means a reason to skip this one.
... may teach the reader a thing or two about Black history in the North, whether he wants to learn it or not ... may be classified as a thriller, but it is also a social commentary, revealing the evolving of a practice very much at work today, targeting not only a specific minority but also any less privileged group, regardless of race or age. It’s also the chronicle of how two people fought back.
I can give full credit to the research the author did into the horrific accounts of injustice from the past (and present) upon which she bases her fictional but believable tale. I also appreciated Ms. Cole’s careful use of location. By placing her narrative in New York City, she highlights the North’s deep participation in racist practices ... I liked that their relationship is a slow burn. Both of them have dark edges in their history and wounds that need to heal, so it works that while the attraction is instant, the love definitely isn’t ... I liked less that the mystery was also a slow burn. In fact, it was essentially non-existent for the first fifty percent of the book ... The slow start might make it a bit imperfect but the important history and insight into the perspective and emotions of those whose voices have been silenced in our country for far too long more than make up for that.
When No One Is Watching is a fantastic example of how much a reader can learn about history from a work of fiction when a skilled author bases an engaging story in historical facts ... a thrilling read, filled with a dizzying sense of paranoia that infects the reader as much as it does Sydney. Come for the thriller, stay because you’ll learn more than you expect, I promise.
Told through chapters that alternate perspectives between Sydney Green, an African-American life-long resident of the neighbourhood, and Theo, her new neighbour who is white, the reader never has the chance to look at the story solely through one lens. This is a technique that makes for excellent story-telling, but at times will likely make the reader uncomfortable ... This thriller constantly ratchets up the tension, and while it is certainly a highly recommended read just as an exciting story, it is also much more than that. There is depth here that needs to be read and thought about. Opening one’s self up to the perspectives and world-views of others is how we learn and how we grow. Neither Theo nor Sydney is 100% likeable, or reliable, but their interactions may provide readers with valuable insight into situations or circumstances they have never been confronted with before.
Cole weaves together themes of racism, class, and privilege, while providing readers with a gripping plot about Sydney, a Black woman, and Theo, her white neighbor, who explore the gentrification of their Brooklyn neighborhood from alternating perspectives ... a few people found the ending a bit rushed and were frustrated that some plot points weren't fully developed ... Still, it didn't take away from the characters' relatability—sometimes too relatable for those who have been directly impacted by gentrification.
...this twisty tale tackles with a somber wit ongoing issues of race, class inequity, social injustice, and predatory housing practices ...This sizzling summer thriller starts on low and heats up fast. Smart, sexy, and surprising, this suspenseful novel revealing the underbelly of urban gentrification will keep readers reading late into the night.