Have you ever come across the writing of Samuel Best? Can you find him in your local bookshop, or in your local library. Well, if you live in Falkirk I am sure that you can, because he is a local lad. But if you live elsewhere, I am not so sure, and that is a loss to the reading community. I would like to think that he is stocked in bookshops across Scotland, and that every library in Scotland has a copy of “Shop Front” but I am not sure about that.
If I was still working in libraries, I would have invited Samuel Best by now to talk to one of our reading groups. And I would have put “Shop Front” on a Scotland-wide reading promotion. As I no longer have this option, I am bringing him to your attention in this way.
So why should you be reading Samuel Best? Because he is a young man who addresses the issues confronting young men today in a clear and concise manner through the medium of telling a really good story.
There are some who would argue that the experience of being a young man in Scotland is different to elsewhere, and that has some truth to it. But testosterone is testosterone the world over. Samuel Best speaks as much to, and about, young men in Umlazi, or Kolkata or the Bronx as he does to young men in Falkirk. And that really is the point of this book.
Ben Hamilton has just graduated from university with a degree but with no job, and with no prospect of getting one. So he moves back to live with his parents in Linlithgow, and to tide himself over, he gets a job in a supermarket. It is here that he makes friends with some of his fellow workers and together, through some flirting, they find themselves deeply embroiled in gang warfare.
This is the same kind of territory as explored by Sifiso Mzobe in Young Blood about gangs in Umlazi, South Africa, or by Bernard Mac Laverty in some of his short stories about Belfast. But Samuel Best brings his own unique voice to this kind of storytelling, partly by setting the story in a small town in the Central Belt of Scotland, and mostly through the spareness and sensitivity of his writing.
In many ways, Ben Hamilton is the honorary grandson of Holden Caulfield, but slightly older, more sympathetic and less exasperating.