When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

The book cover shows a brick townhome or apartment building shaded in blue shadows, with greenery from tree branches around the edges. There are marble steps and railings up to the front double doors, and eight windows on three floors, one lighted behind a curtain, and one dark but with a curtain pulled back as if someone is watching from the dark.

By Sahana C.

Fans of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, this book is for you. Romance author Alyssa Cole’s first venture into the thriller genre comes to us with a bang, a gentrification thriller that talks about all of the ways a neighborhood disappearing can truly be insidious.  

When No One is Watching follows Sydney, a Black woman recently returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up, and Theo, a White man, who has also recently moved into the neighborhood with his extremely wealthy (and pretty catty) girlfriend/ex/it’s-complicated, Kim. Neighborhood shops disappear and turn into national chains, but it isn’t until Sydney hears about neighbors moving suddenly that she starts to think something unusual might be going on. She teams up with Theo to work on an accurate tour of the neighborhood, but is unsure if he’s trustworthy or part of the problem. 

Cole does a wonderful job marrying the two perspectives, Sydney’s and Theo’s, into a cohesive narrative, in a time and situation where their points of view appear to be polar opposites. When we are reading from Sydney’s point of view, it is nerve-wracking and jarring, a new problem around every corner. When we are seeing the world from Theo’s eyes, it is us trying desperately to understand problems that don’t hurt us the way that they hurt other people.  

This novel approaches gentrification with a firm and education-based stance. There are some moments where it feels like Cole is trying to make sure that her readers are walking away armed with facts, not just the thrill factor. Admittedly, that can feel a little distracting when there is the next big bad problem only pages away, but waiting with the characters and following the pace that Cole sets up is well worth it for the explosive finale.  

The influence of Get Out is clear as well, and fans of the movie will notice the pacing of the book matching closely to the movie. No matter how similar the two seem, however, the ending is still something that will catch readers by surprise, keeping you hooked to every page.  

It is an easy, captivating read for people who want the conventions of a thriller while also feeling like they are learning something. New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke wrote, “From the first page of When No One Is Watching, I felt like I was right there in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, filled with sharply etched characters and dialogue that zings. Then bam!  I was knocked over by the momentum of an intense psychological thriller that doesn’t let go until the final page. This is a terrific read.” 

When No One is Watching is available in printaudiobook on CD, and as an eBook and an eAudiobook through Overdrive/Libby.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Author Works with Daniel Silva

Photo credit: Marco Grob. Author wears a dark jacket, a white shirt, and black framed glasses. He leans against a wall with his arms folded
Photo credit: Marco Grob

by Kristen B.

ONLINE EVENT: Wed Jul 21 7 – 8 pm
Register at hclibrary.org > classes & events

WIN A BOOK!  One hundred lucky Zoom (randomly selected) attendees will win a hardback copy of The Cellist by Daniel Silva. Book giveaway sponsored by Friends & Foundation of HCLS.

What do you consider ideal summer reading? Do you dive into doorstop-sized classics or do you look for a bit of fun fluff to read in the sunshine? I think summer is a great time to fall into a series and get to know one set of characters. Sometimes, it’s the perfect time to re-acquaint myself with a long-running series that I’ve let languish.

Such is the case with Daniel Silva’s spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, which began in 2000 with The Kill Artist. Gabriel Allon may be the perfect action-adventure hero. Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a film franchise yet. He’s darkly handsome, desperately in love with his young beautiful wife, has a tragic, haunting background, and works as an art restorer of Renaissance paintings. He resides in a cliffside cottage in Cornwall and goes for long brooding walks between missions. What’s not to love?!

About those missions: Gabriel Allon is also an operative for the Israeli version of the CIA (referred to in the books as The Office), and he travels the world with his trusted team protecting the safety and integrity of his homeland against all sorts of criminals, politicians, terrorists, and other nefarious folks. This series never disappoints with books set in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Vatican and Italy, Israel, Afghanistan, Russia, and the US. Often, many of those countries are involved in one story’s whirlwind, time-racing plot. As with many books in this genre, these are not for the faint of heart, as they contain graphic violence and hard people making hard decisions, most of whom will do anything to advance their own agendas and desires.

As I mentioned above, I plan to spend this summer jumping back into this series since I’m a couple of books behind. The last one I read, The Black Widow, published in 2016, is probably the best spy thriller I’ve ever read. It encompasses modern geopolitics, ancient grudges, double agents, and enough heart-pounding action that I’m pretty sure I lost sleep to finish it. The books are also excellent audiobooks, if you prefer to listen (beware the inevitable point of not being able to stop the story, though).

Book cover for The Cellist: A woman wearing a bright red coat and high black heels walks with her back to the reader. The cover is a bright blue that fades to black along the edges.

So, I invite you to join me at an upcoming Author Works event with author Daniel Silva! His newest novel (being published July 13), The Cellist, follows up the acclaimed #1 New York Times bestsellers The Order, The New Girl, and The Other Woman with a riveting, action-packed tale of espionage and suspense. The fatal poisoning of a Russian billionaire sends Gabriel Allon on a dangerous journey across Europe and into the orbit of a musical virtuoso who may hold the key to the truth about his friend’s death. The plot Allon uncovers leads to secret channels of money and influence that go to the very heart of Western democracy and threaten the stability of the global order. The Cellist is a breathtaking entry in Daniel Silva’s “outstanding series” (People magazine) and reveals once more his superb artistry and genius for invention—and demonstrates why he belongs, “firmly alongside le Carré and Forsyth as one of the greatest spy novelists of all time” (The Real Book Spy).

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

The book cover shows two boys running in silhouette against a dark foreground and blue sky with clouds, between two leafy trees.

by Aimee Z.

In a small, forgotten Mississippi town, a vicious crime and a missing girl are like déjà vu for hapless farmer and hermit, Larry Ott. Decades before, the man the whole town still calls ‘Scary Larry,’ took local girl Cindy Walker on his first and only date. The girl never came home, and her body was never found.

Blame fell on Larry Ott, and he became a pariah to everyone, including his parents. But the one person Larry could not bear to lose was his best friend from childhood, Silas Jones. Silas “32” Jones, a black man, once dirt poor, worked hard over the years to earn the respectability he covets as the town’s lawman.

Now another girl – a politician’s daughter – has gone missing. Once more, the town is certain Larry did it. The last thing Silas needs is anything to do with Larry Ott – until he responds to the 911 call: Larry Ott’s been shot by an intruder and is now in intensive care. It doesn’t look good.

Silas’s struggle to do the right thing is what makes this book a small gem. Readers will settle in to assume that this is another insignificant southern town, bristling with economic despair and racism, but they’ll be wrong. Sure, Franklin creates an oppressive atmosphere where heat and kudzu vines flourish, and neighbors get back at neighbors with the occasional cottonmouth snake in the mailbox. Urban legends, racism, ignorance, child abuse, and the small-town need for a whipping boy abound. We need a hero, and refreshingly, Franklin has given that role to Silas.

At the same time, any connection to Larry Ott could put Silas back on that precipice of racism. But as he investigates and pursues the perpetrator, unearthing the bones of an old crime, Silas’s conflicted emotions press to a breaking point. Will he admit to the complicated part he once played in the harrowing life he shared with Larry Ott? If only he could forget turning his back on Larry when Larry needed him most.

Part thriller, part literary fiction, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is still a book I want to press into everyone’s hands. I think it should also be part of the high school curriculum. An eloquent and tender story, it will shape any reader’s collective consciousness regarding race and what it means to be a friend. 

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is also available from HCLS as an ebook from Libby/Overdrive, and in audiobook format on CD.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.