Book review: Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Saturday, March 4, 2023 Permalink

For reasons unknown I initially thought Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian Blunt fell into the ‘horror’ genre but then I read the publicity blurb and realised it was right down (or do I mean up?) my reading alley…. a thriller featuring a series of murders, inspired by a real-life serial killer! I must admit Ultimo Press has really hit the ground running. Though just over two years old TWO of my favourite three books last were published by the newish kid on the block, and this book by Kalagian Blunt is another stellar offering.

Book review: Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian BluntDark Mode
by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Published by Ultimo Press
on 08/03/2023
Source: Ultimo Press
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9781761151255
Pages: 400

For years, Reagan Carsen has kept her life offline. No socials. No internet presence. No photos. Safe.
Until the day she stumbles on a shocking murder in a Sydney laneway. The victim looks just like her.

As more murders shake the city and she’s increasingly drawn out from hiding, Reagan is forced to confront her greatest fear.
She’s been found.

I’m not a fan of horror and have struggled with thrillers that delve into the more, ummm… ‘horrific’ such as those by talented Aussie author Gabriel Bergmoser. Here we have dismembered – literally bisected – bodies but we’re not privy to the act itself which (for me) is where we move from merely murderous and macabre to the downright nasty. Being present for the killing or torture is the line in the sand for me. I can cope with murderous thoughts but don’t necessarily want to participate in the process.

We meet Reagan as she comes across a body. Of someone who looks just like her. Instead of reporting it she runs and we get some insight into Reagan’s restricted existence – living her life in analogue and refraining from any online or public presence at all.

It takes us a while to get the full story from Reagan and learn about the stalker who appeared in her life when she was only 15. She blames herself for his presence and we’re reminded how far we’ve come as a society as we’re now increasingly suspicious of those we meet online and aware of scams and cons.

It takes Reagan some time but she eventually confides most of her secrets to her best friend Min-lee, though the pair have grown apart since the latter has married and had children. Min’s an investigative journalist and can’t understand why Reagan won’t go to the police with her suspicions and concerns, but has a source and keeps her friend up-to-date with the police inquiry.

Another murder has Reagan on edge, but there’s change afoot and romance on offer with Bryce, who she literally crashed into and who seems to be a keeper. And with her business in jeopardy she knows she needs to move outside of her self-imposed comfort zone.

Reagan’s certainly a likeable character and we’re drawn into her world. There’s an awareness about her so she’s conscious she could be allowing her fears to taint her thoughts, so doesn’t come across as unstable or paranoid. Rather, there’s a sense of menace or trepidation that has her on edge and suspicious of those around her. And Kalagian Blunt does an excellent job at keeping readers’ spidey senses tingling as well.

And then it’s seemingly too late and despite Reagan’s best intentions her worst fears are realised. As things move to a climax Kalagian Blunt is able to bring all of the pieces together seamlessly.

Although the murders are at the heart of this story, (for me) they weren’t the most shocking, impactful or powerful part of this exceptional book. Sure they’re horrific, deeply deeply personal and rooted in hatred, but we’re also introduced to a different kind of evil – that in some ways is personal but at the same time not personal at all. Depersonalising if you like and it’s almost worse that human beings can carry such a sense of privilege and a disregard for others. If I could stretch my mind back to my undergraduate psychology days I’d be pondering the psychopath vs sociopath persona.

Kalagian Blunt has taken inspiration from real life events here, but dragged them into our world. There are lessons to be learned about lives lived online and what we share with who(m), but at the same time we remember Reagan tried to stay off the grid and was targetted nonetheless. It’s a reminder that bad and evil exists and though we can try not to offer more mediums or opportunities for them to play out, we’ll never be fully safe.

I loved so much about this book I fear I’ve done a poor job at explaining why. But I was rivetted, by Reagan and her backstory and her romance with Bryce and friendship with Min, even the work she was doing to sustain her garden centre business. And although I’m ignorant about plants / flora I appreciated their importance in Reagan’s life and the way Kalagian Blunt used them as metaphors for the events playing out.

Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian Blunt was published by Ultimo Press and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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