Book review: Dark Mode, Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Put down your phone and read this book instead about the dangers of the dark web.

Dark Mode sucked me in like a late-night Instagram spiral, which seems appropriate for a book about the perils of online interactions. The story opens with a gruesome discovery that sets the stage for a series of events revolving around Reagan, a young woman with a plant shop in inner-west Sydney who returns to the world of smartphones after swearing off them. Her past and the reason she’s sworn off social media are unravelled through the story in what becomes a game of cat and mouse.

There’s always something exciting about reading a story set in a place you’re familiar with and Dark Mode feels even more thrilling for those able to picture parts of its Sydney setting. 

Perhaps the test for a good book is when you forget the mechanics of reading, word after word, page after page, and are simply absorbed by the story, which gallops towards a thrilling conclusion. It’s twisty and tantalising, dropping clues and leading you down rabbit holes. The description ‘page-turner’ is a cliché, but it’s appropriate. I definitely stayed up past my bedtime a few nights, racing towards the end.

There is an undercurrent of a certain kind of online subculture that gives the book a compelling, contemporary angle: men who hate women and blame them for all of society’s ills. These groups are real and active, which is unnerving when any dark online group and their twisted ideologies spill out into the real world. The phone becomes a symbol of connection to this underbelly of the internet, whether you want to connect or not. 

Dark Mode also has an ongoing reference to an iconic and particularly gruesome murder: that of Elizabeth Short, the victim of a famously unsolved case from the 1940s known as the ‘Black Dahlia’, which ties the story in with history and gives it a sensationalist aura. 

Reagan’s plant centre also gives the story an interesting metaphoric backdrop as she’s able to see the world through the behaviour and appearance of plants. When things start to ramp up, she’s haunted by a slew of people coming into her shop to buy dahlias.

Read: Book review: Funny Ethnics, Shirley Le

Blunt’s mystery weaves effortlessly to its final conclusion, and the characters are quirky and relatable. I struggle with the authenticity of ‘evil’ characters revealing their motives, but I’m sure that’s part of the genre. Dark Mode is a thrilling read for when you need to get consumed by a good thriller instead of a social media binge.

Dark Mode, Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Publisher: Ultimo
ISBN: 9781922863737
Format: paperback
Pages: 400pp
RRP $34.99

Publication: March 2023

Cherie Gilmour is a freelance writer from Torquay.