Saturday, December 19, 2020

REVIEW: When No One is Watching (audiobook) by Alyssa Cole, narrated by Susan Dalian and Jay Aaseng

When No One is Watching is a thriller, or at least it's marketed as one. I checked it out via one of my library Overdrive accounts.

This review includes slight spoilers.


This alternates between two POVs: Sydney, a black woman who was born and raised in Brooklyn, and Theo, a white guy who recently moved into the neighborhood with his wealthy girlfriend. Both of them are struggling with weights on their shoulders - Sydney has her mother's medical bills to worry about, and Theo was recently laid off and is being increasingly frozen out by his girlfriend.

Sydney's neighborhood is becoming unrecognizable - long-time neighbors leaving and shops she's gone to for years closing and getting replaced, sometimes practically overnight. As Sydney begins researching the area's history, with Theo's assistance, the two of them gradually realize there's something sinister going on.

I was surprised when I first heard about this book - it seemed like such a shift from Cole's romances. I'd previously enjoyed Cole's contemporary romances, and since I haven't been as much of a romance reader in recent years, I thought I might enjoy this particular book even more. I was, unfortunately, wrong about that.

I went into this with more traditional thriller expectations. I figured there would be a gradual buildup of tension that would blow up into something bigger by the end. While there were occasional disturbing moments - for example, the Uber driver scene - the overall effect was disjointed and didn't mesh well with the parts where Sydney and Theo spent time together doing research. The information they uncovered was interesting but wasn't tied into the story until fairly late (beyond the general "gentrification has been happening for a long time" aspect).

Cole is primarily a romance writer, but I really wish she hadn't incorporated romance into this particular story. Theo and Sydney didn't work for me at all as a couple. Nearly every time Sydney was around Theo, she snapped at him. Sometimes it was just because she was stressed and sometimes he'd actually done something to deserve it. Either way, it made it difficult to believe he'd continue to keep coming around and hoping a romantic relationship might develop between the two of them. It was also exhausting to listen to, and after a certain point I increased the audiobook narration speed so those scenes would at least be over faster.

The developments near the end of the book were interesting, and there were some nicely chilling moments, but then Cole suddenly changed the scale of events from local to global and it was just too much. And ugh, again with the romance. It really, really should have been dropped. Sydney easily and frequently doubting and distrusting Theo near the end was more believable than the idea that they might have any kind of decent romantic relationship - they'd only really just started to get to know each other, after all.

The audiobook narrators weren't bad, but Jay Aaseng, in particular, seemed like a poor choice for Theo's voice, and the alternating narration made it difficult for me to remember who some of the minor characters were when they weren't voiced by the narrator I most associated them with. I'd probably have been better off reading this book rather than listening to it.

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