"Spare Key" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by LegumeMan Books
Written by R. Frederick Hamilton
2009, 228 pages, Fiction
Released on February 18th, 2009
There's something wonderful about reading an author for the first time and being blown away. It rarely happens, but when I finish a book by a writer I've never read before and make a mental note to read everything he or she has ever published, I feel like I've discovered a treasure I have to share with everyone. Ladies and gentleman (you know, those not familiar with him), please meet R. Frederick Hamilton.
To be honest, I didn't simply stumble upon Hamilton's work. He's published by LegumeMan Books, one of those rare presses that has never disappointed me. Being in the company of authors like Garrett Cook, Matthew Revert, Jordan Krall, Andrew Gallacher, and Bradley Sands, to mention a few LegumeMan authors, spoke very well of Hamilton and whatever information I found online echoed my suspicions. However, nothing could have prepared me for Spare Key.
Spare Key kicks off with the homonymous novella. It tells the story of Ben, a man recently released from a psychiatric institution who spends his days popping pills to stay mellow and trying to keep the encroaching red room in his head at bay. He has moved into a decrepit apartment and soon develops an interest in his attractive neighbor, Rachel. He tries to keep everything under control, but evil ideas and truly twisted desires start infiltrating his mind, even with the pills. When he finds a spare key to her apartment hidden in his, a vestige left by the previous owner, the thoughts go from bad to worse. Ben starts fantasizing about Rachel constantly, looking at her through a window, and masturbating nonstop. Meanwhile, she slowly becomes one with the abusive monster that lives in his head: his mother. Unbeknownst to him, Rachel, who's had her share of crazy neighbors, is keeping her eyes on him, and she has a few dark secrets of her own.
Truly great hardcore horror is not the kind that churns your stomach (something impossible to do with true fans of the genre like myself); it's the stories that get under your skin and make you feel uncomfortable and tense. Hamilton accomplishes that on almost every page. The story is full of blood and murder, but that's just the beginning. The real horror comes from other elements like guilt, sexual abuse, psychosis, fear, and obsession. Also, the twist in the story is as juicy and gruesome as everything that preceded it, and that's a rare thing to find these days.
While Spare Key is the main course, the book also contains two short stories that are just as good, if not better. The first one is "The Filmmakers", one of the most disturbing short stories you'll ever read. It follows a group of teenagers who start shooting movies and soon end up doing snuff-like productions that they distribute around school. The narration comes from an unknown individual who watches the sadistic youngsters and ponders the consequences of their actions. This story is real, hard to read in the best way possible, and as extreme as it gets without entering the world of tentacle rape and impossible scenarios.
Last but not least is "Writer's Block", a story that's slightly surreal but still within the realm of the plausible. It offers a glimpse into the life of a chubby son who's held hostage by his bodybuilding mother. I'll let you read the rest.
Spare Key is brutal in an amazing way, and it simply needs to be in the shelves of any serious horror fiction fan.