It's hard to assess a book like `Spare Key' without addressing the intensely graphic and disturbing nature of the content. Up front I'd have to say that this isn't for everyone. Most people of sound mind would actively seek to avoid such content and I certainly wouldn't blame them. The word that keeps popping up again and again while reading `Spare Key' is `disturbing'. The graphic (often sexualized) violence is gut churning and the taste left in your mouth afterward is foul.
So why read this book? Simply put, `Spare Key' is a wonderfully realized story that completely reverberates within you. It's not often that I have such a visceral reaction to a book. The story itself follows a fairly standard formula and concerns a mentally disturbed man named Ben who is released from care earlier than advisable. He moves next door to a seemingly "average" woman named Rachel. Ben soon proceeds to form an obsession with Rachel who, according to his warped mind, looks just like the mother who abused him during childhood. Ben has concocted a "red room" in his mind wherein he performs the most vulgar acts of violence upon facsimiles of his childhood tormentor. Rachel is the perfect facsimile.
Using this framework, R. Frederick Hamilton proceeds to decimate everything in his path with the raw power of his disturbing prose. I winced on numerous occasions throughout.
This book is topped off with two short stories that if anything, leave an even more unpleasant taste. The first of these, `The Filmmakers' may rate as the most unpleasant story I've ever read. It's a story about a group of teens who (as the product description says) "degenerate into sadism" and an omnipotent being who watches over the teens as they perform their vile acts. There's no reason to linger on the details of the sadism, suffice to say it involves snuff-like home movies starring local children. I read a review of this book recently that wrote this story off as exploitation but I think that's a little too simplistic. This story is a (much) more extreme version of events that occur daily thanks to the ubiquity of recording devices and bored teens. Just check youtube and you'll be bombarded with footage of teens terrorizing people for the camera. If anything, `The Filmmakers' is a statement against a genuine problem that exists today.
The final story here is `Writer's Block' which is a supremely surreal, uncomfortable story about a son held hostage by his bodybuilding mother. The mother is convinced her son will write a masterpiece and the torment she hurls his way is just a part of the process. `Writer's Block' is about as unpleasant as a story concerning a mother kidnapping her own son should be. There is something pathetically amusing about the narrator's plight and it's certainly nice to get a reprieve from the sickening events of the earlier stories.
All in all, `Spare Key; is highly recommended for fans of extreme fiction. However, there's a strong warning: it's not a nice book; it's not a happy book. Quite simply put, It's sickening. Proceed with caution.