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Saturday, June 8, 2024

Review: When No One Is Watching

For easily the last 5+ years My Man and I have had the same conversation when a new critical darling TV series or movie drops that everyone is raving about. Wendy:"People really seem to be raving about that new drama XYZ."  My Man: "Yeah, not interested. Another show/movie about terrible people being terrible."

This conversation, on an endless loop, is what ran through my mind while listening to When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. This book did not work for me on many, many levels. 

All The Spoilers! Seriously, ALL OF THEM!

Sydney Green was born and raised in Brooklyn and is back home after her marriage in Seattle imploded. Besides the stress of being crushed under the weight of her mother's medical debt, her neighborhood is changing and not for the better.  Gentrification has come calling in the form of For Sale signs, greedy real estate agents, and neighbors Sydney has known her entire life packing up and just leaving. Without saying good-bye. It's like the Brooklyn equivalent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One minute they're there, the next minute they're gone and nobody really knows where to.

In her former neighbors' place is a pack of clownish racist white people, all except for Theo who has moved in across the street from Sydney with his girlfriend Uber-Karen.  Theo's currently unemployed and what Sydney doesn't know is that he and Uber-Karen have split up. They're no longer a couple but they bought the house together - and he's now relegated to the attic with no air conditioning or working bathroom. 

Eventually Sydney decides to create her own "walking tour" of her neighborhood that she'll debut during their annual block party and the person who was supposed to help her with research has "gone on vacation down south." That's when Theo volunteers for the job and Sydney, not wanting to look petty AF in front of her remaining neighbors, begrudgingly accepts his help.

Gentrification as a thriller boogeyman is certainly inspired, but the execution of this story is not good. The first 50% has about as much thrills as plain oatmeal. Sydney's problems, Theo's problems, Racist White People Being Racist - it's all about as thrilling as a lit fic novel.  Everybody is frankly annoying and terrible in this book - except for Theo (at first), which is also a problem.

You know what raises my hackles the fasted in romance novels? Not Like Other Girls nonsense.  Theo is Not Like Other White People nonsense.  Quite literally every other white person in this book is a vile sack of human garbage. Every. Single. One. Now, I could see some readers thinking this is just helping to balance the scales. How many thousands of books have been published over the years where all the brown and black people are portrayed as stereotypes or relegated to villainous roles?  A lot. You know what? I got problems with those too. You know what's great? Nuance. Layers. And the villains in this story have all the nuance and subtlety of a jackhammer pounding into your skull. 

The thriller subtitle finally shows up in the second half. By this time we know Theo is actually just like other white people - turns out he's a small time grifter / drug dealer (and not a very good one since his grifting and falsifying his job application are why he's currently unemployed). Sydney's Mom turns out to be dead (which I saw coming) but surprise - Sydney buried her in the community garden so nobody would find out she's dead thereby causing Sydney to lose the brownstone to the predatory lender. Sydney's BFF turns out to be a sack of crap who sold Sydney's Mom out and why she fell in with a predatory lender in the first place - and yet, we're supposed to mourn her loss when her dead body turns up in a hidden stairwell? Sure Jan.

And all the missing neighbors? Snatched off the street and put in the "abandoned" hospital so a pharmaceutical company can steal their houses and run experiments on them. Theo and Sydney go in guns blazing, bodies start dropping and SURPISE! Global Conspiracy!  The worst part about all of this?  There's no actual ending.  The people they rescue? What happens to them?  No idea. Does Mr. Perkins get his house and dog back? No idea! But hey, Global Conspiracy! A Cover Up!  Sydney and Theo are safe!  


Seriously, none of this worked for me. Terrible people being terrible. Pacing that's a slog.  Clownish, one-dimensional villains. And two "heroes" who, quite frankly, I didn't like all that much. I can't tell you how close I came to DNF'ing this and honestly, I should have. 

Final Grade = D+


Miss Bates said...

Well, thank you, Wendy, for the vindication. I DNF-ed this one. You slogged through the whole thing: I'm in awe.

azteclady said...

oh man


I don't know that I would had managed to keep going 'till the end, but if I had and there was no resolution, I think I'd pop a vein somewhere.

Wendy said...

Miss Bates: I was so tempted to DNF it by 20% but kept going for...well, I don't know why. The heaps of accolades and awards probably. But ugh, the pacing was just dreadful and there wasn't a single character I could get behind. Hard to believe this was written by the same author who wrote the exemplary An Extraordinary Union 🤷‍♀️.

AL: Well the bad guys get theirs in the end, so that's something - but there's all these people that were being held hostage and experimented on in the abandoned hospital who had their homes ripped away from them, their lives upended - and there's zero closure there. Also, Global Conspiracy boogeyman - so the book pretty much ends with a "our heroes live to fight another day." There's thimble-full of closure but it's pretty well documented at this point that I prefer suspense/thrillers where "the universe is righted." I realize that wouldn't be "realistic" given the story Cole is telling here and using gentrification to underpin it all - but yeah, give me the rainbow-farting unicorn, thanks. For the rest I'll read the news.

azteclady said...

That "what happens to the other many victims after the heroes/protagonists walk away?" (whether to fight another day or not) is the thing that gives me a rash with superhero films, and with series á la the Psy/Changeling after oh, book ten or twelve.

I get that society, and certainly the wealthy and the powerful, consider most of the rest of us disposable, we see it every fucking day--I don't want to read it in my fiction, and I don't need to see it on the screen.

I want the universe righted, and a measure of justice and yes, happiness, and for most people to make it to the end and beyond, because there's so little of that in the actual fucking world.

So this one goes to the "nope, not for me" and thank you, for taking one for the team.