When No One Is Watching: A Thriller

Image of When No One Is Watching: An Edgar Award Winner
Release Date: 
September 1, 2020
William Morrow Paperbacks
Reviewed by: 

“A social commentary, revealing the evolving of a conspiracy very much at work today, targeting not only a specific minority but also any less privileged group, regardless of race or age.”

After a shattering divorce and some time spent in a mental institution instigated by her ex-husband, Sydney Green is back home in Brooklyn.

Sadly, this may not be the best place for Sydney to lick her wounds, for the neighborhood she knew is slowly disappearing, falling to the bane of “gentrification.”

“The landscape of my life is unrecognizable; Gifford Place doesn’t feel like home.”

There are two forces at work.

“Wealthy millennials who buy and DIY for fun and profit because they plan to sell the houses in ‘emerging communities.’” As well as big industries like VerenTech, that buy large sections of a neighborhood in order to attract those wealthy millennials.

Sydney is proud of her heritage and her neighborhood. When she encounters a tour guide conducting a “Historic Brownstone tour,” expounding on the history of Gifford Place from a white person’s point-of-view, she expounds back.

“This is a historically Black neighborhood but none of the people you’ve mentioned have been.”

The guide’s answer to that is that she should start her own tour.

So Sydney does.

Her investigations into the Black history of Gifford Place turn up some interesting facts, most of which prove that not only Black exploitation, but that of indigenous peoples, existed even before New York became a state.

“There were enslaved Africans building, planting, and harvesting in colonial Brooklyn alongside the Dutch.”

She also discovers a very current disturbing fact.

Many of her old neighbors, who swore they’d never sell out and move, have done exactly that. Even some she’s seen recently are gone, never mentioning that they were moving, and no one knows where.

Sydney’s across-the-street neighbor, Theo may be termed one of the “wealthy millennials,” but it’s in name only. His girlfriend is the one with the money. He scraped together every cent he had so they could buy the brownstone in Gifford Place together. Kim doesn’t fit in, but Theo is trying to, even if he is white. When he encounters Sydney during that confrontational tour, he’s interested in what she has to say. In fact, he offers to help her organize her tour.

When Kim suddenly gives him the heave-ho and he finds himself locked out of his own home, he and Sydney are thrown together to solve the mystery of what’s happening to the folks from Gifford Place.

VerenTech Corporation is behind what going on. The company is determined to own all of Gifford Place, and they’re not above using drugs, police intimidation, or murder to get it.

Sydney is just as determined not to let the neighborhood go without a fight.

“They can break but they can’t erase. They can build but they can’t bury us.”

Enforced companionship doesn’t always lead to love. In this case, however, while Sydney and Theo are gathering evidence against Verentech, it looks as if it just may.

An entertaining novel written from Sydney and Theo’s point of view, When No One is Watching may teach the reader a thing or two about Black history in the North, whether he wants to learn it or not.

Sidney’s investigations into the background of the land on which Gifford Place stands becomes a saga of white privilege and Black disadvantage soon developing into the formulation of a conspiracy.

Recruiting Theo, whom she initially sees as part of that conspiracy, isn’t in her plan, but as he continues to intrude, she finds herself accepting his help.

There are side plots, such as Sydney’s mother’s illness, Theo’s crime-associated childhood, and the involvement of his girlfriend in the “reclamation project,” but it all eventually spirals a return to the main theme, that of powerful big business versus the old, the helpless, the less advantaged who don’t have the finances, knowledge, or influence to fight back.

When No One is Watching may be classified as a thriller, but it is also a social commentary, revealing the evolving of a practice very much at work today, targeting not only a specific minority but also any less privileged group, regardless of race or age. It’s also the chronicle of how two people fought back.