This was a little funky in places, a little shaky on its feet, but overall I really enjoyed reading it. This is billed as a thriller, but it also has elements of romance, horror, and mystery in it. I was super stoked when I heard Alyssa Cole was trying her hand at another genre (she normally writes romance, both historical and contemporary). I’ve been hit or miss with her books, particularly her contemporary stuff, so I was really curious to see what she could do with the trappings of another genre or two.
When No One is Watching takes on issues of race and gentrification in America here, and we see it through the eyes of Sydney (a black woman who is watching as the neighborhood she’s lived in her whole life is slowly disappearing around her) and Theo (a white man who buys the house across the street with his girlfriend). I’ve seen others take issue with the pacing, but it mostly worked for me. I enjoyed the slow creep of things that keep happening to Sydney (and to a lesser extent, Theo) that as they build up, begin to paint a creepy picture of something that may be going on under the surface of her neighborhood. There is an Uber ride scene in here that had me losing my shit. I think I agree, though, that it may have been better for the reveals to come a bit sooner, or to be wrapped up less quickly, but that is a complaint I have also had with other books of hers.
I liked the characters here, I liked the very real sense of dread, I liked the way she played with horror elements, but everything that happened (with the exception of the SPOILERS drug trials that turn people in zombies? or something? END SPOILERS) was something that could actually happen in the real world. For the most part, I thought she did a good job incorporating the historical information about race and slavery and gentrification into the narrative (though there were parts that did feel clunky and a bit shoehorned). I was much more into the story revolving around Sydney’s personal life and family and house than I was that of the main conflict, that led to the final confrontation. For me, the emotional climax of the novel didn’t come when SPOILERS they found the underground facility, but when Sydney revealed that her mother had died, and she trusts Theo with the secret END SPOILERS. I also thought she walked a fine line between keeping things more in the gray areas of morality (both Sydney and Theo are far from being perfect people) and having the bad guys be so evil and moustache twirling.
A good read for me, and I would definitely read more thrillers from her. I’ll be interested to see where she goes from here.