WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING by Alyssa Cole is one of the big, buzzy books of this fall, with good reason. While psychological thrillers are not my usual reading fare (because I am a scaredy cat), I adore Cole’s romances and the setting of this book — a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, from the point of view of a longtime resident as opposed to a newcomer — was immensely appealing. Marketed as “Rear Window meets Get Out,” it’s a spooky, propulsive story that verges on horror and doesn’t shy away from social commentary.
Sydney Green has returned to her childhood home in Brooklyn after a traumatic divorce. Her mother is ailing, her job prospects have dwindled, and her people skills are…wanting. But Gifford Place, a largely Black neighborhood, is changing — longtime residents are moving away and familiar stores are shuttering, replaced by wealthy hipsters, upmarket boutiques, and a cutting-edge medical clinic. The changes leave Sydney feeling unmoored, and so she begins a research project into the history of Gifford Place, hoping to create a walking tour that recognizes the lives and importance of the neighborhood’s Black residents. Her unlikely assistant is white newcomer Theo, who shares a nearby brownstone with his entitled ex-girlfriend and is harboring secrets of his own.
As Sydney digs deeper into the history of Gifford Place, she has a series of unsettling encounters that might be nefarious — or might just be paranoia. Even as Theo and Sydney begin to develop feelings for each other, gradually revealing their own secrets and misdeeds, the story escalates from creeping dread to outright terror — and it all leads to a cinema-worthy ending sequence.
Make no mistake: WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING is, as promised, a tense, twisty psychological thriller — but it’s also a visceral lesson in both the history of systemic racism and its present-day dangers. Most of all, it’s a book that will have you talking and thinking long after you close the cover.