Ultimo Press, $34.99 pb, 389 pp
An early-morning jogger. An alleyway. A young woman’s mutilated body. A set-up familiar enough to warrant its own Television Tropes category (‘Jogger Finds Death’). Yet before catching sight of the latter-day Black Dahlia being pecked at by ibises somewhere off Enmore Road, unlucky passer-by Reagan Carsen is caught in a spider’s web: a simple but effective visual metaphor for the wider web that connects her to the first victim of the fictional ‘Sydney Dahlia’ serial killings.
More compelling than the question of whodunit, initially, is Reagan’s bizarre reaction to her discovery. She is panicked by the victim’s resemblance (or imagined resemblance) to herself. She refrains from calling the police, fearful of being tied to the scene and interrogated. While far from heartless – she notes the colour of the victim’s nail polish, shoos a scavenging bird – Reagan chooses to flee, leaving the corpse exposed to the elements on a sweltering Sunday morning.
Following on from a memoir, How to Be Australian (2020), and a thriller novella, My Name Is Revenge (2018), Dark Mode is the first full-length crime novel of Canadian-born Sydney-based author Ashley Kalagian Blunt. Though billed as a psychological thriller for the online age, the action of Dark Mode is largely IRL. Beginning exactly seventy years after the original Black Dahlia murder, in the days surrounding Donald Trump’s inauguration, as Sydney experiences record high temperatures, Dark Mode is a self-aware crime novel that wears its influences and politics openly. Blunt’s pre-#MeToo Sydney is a powder keg of misogyny, offline and on.