When No One Is Watching

What makes When No One Is Watching, a thriller by Alyssa Cole (A Princess in Theory; An Extraordinary Union), so psychologically haunting is that it could easily be true. Cole has taken the gentrification of historically Black and other marginalized identity neighborhoods and plumbed that reality to its darkest depths for a tale that's eerily uncomfortable due to its chilling familiarity.

When Sydney Green comes home to Gifford Place, the historically Black Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up, she's not surprised to see new white faces living among the brown ones. When a perky blonde relates white-dominant history to groups of tourists--part-sightseeing, part-house hunting--tromping through Sydney's neighborhood, Sydney designs her own tour centering Black stories, even as her childhood neighbors' homes become re-occupied at surprising speed. People she was sure would die in their family homes surrounded by loved ones and memories are suddenly gone without saying goodbye.

Thus begins the descent into conspiracy-theory madness that turns out not to be crazy at all, but rather a web of kidnapping and lies whose threads reach into all aspects of society: the cops, the press, the lawyers, the realtors, some of the very neighbors themselves, and the new medical research center in the neighborhood, the one intended to provide groundbreaking opioid addiction treatment. If everyone is in on it, even those in Sydney's own community whom she would never think to suspect, how can she trust Theo, the male half of the white couple living in Mrs. Payne's former house, who also suspects something sinister about the neighborhood's rapid transformation? Told from both Sydney's and Theo's perspectives, their suspicions converge in action-packed final chapters that don't shy away from the depths of human greed and depravity, nor the grim actions of exactly what it takes to rebel against them. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.

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