Cover Image: Welcome to the Game

Welcome to the Game

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Member Reviews

This is an action packed, debut that does not disappoint.  Spencer Burnham, a rally driver, moved his family from the US to Detroit. His life is destroyed by the passing of his wife.  We find him estranged from his daughter, and drinking his life away as his life falls apart all around him.  I was drawn in by the racing aspect.  I was pleasantly surprised by the character development and the story telling.  A flawed hero with personal growth and development is always a recipe for success.  I enjoyed this read, and look forward to more from Henderson.
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I liked the writing of this novel. I thought it was well balanced. For me personally the violence became a little too much. I would recommend this!
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Story of the book-

This action-packed debut from Craig Henderson, featuring former rally racer Spencer Burnham, bursts onto the scene. Spencer’s life was turned upside down by the passing of his cherished wife after he had relocated his family from England to Detroit and established a foreign auto dealership. He is now estranged from his little daughter and struggling to control the combination of drugs and booze that gets him through the day. He barely manages to stave off Child Protective Services while his company teeters on the brink of failure.

Then he seemingly by accident meets Dominic McGrath, a charming but deadly mobster. McGrath has been planning the last heist that would enable a comfortable retirement, provided he can find a very special kind of driver—one who is competent, trustworthy, and naive. McGrath has been feeling the squeeze from informants, the rise of tech surveillance, and a hotshot detective who has made busting him a personal crusade.

Spencer immediately establishes himself as a capable driver because of his keen timing and deft, high-speed moves. McGrath also makes large monetary payments. But it has a cost; Spencer is forced to play in a situation where newcomers don’t fare well. He tries to escape after seeing the cruelty hidden under McGrath’s endearing facade, but McGrath is too invested to let him go. The two men use their enormous abilities to outperform one another as the city swelters under a heat wave, believing they are the only competitors.

My review-

I thought Henderson’s writing was well-balanced for a narrative like this and I enjoyed the story. The tale zigzags and zags a lot in the last dozen or so pages, like a very fast pursuit. At points, this left me feeling a little lost as well. This novel has a lot of violence; some of it is a little graphic, but it is not overdone; these are all individuals who resort to violence to resolve conflicts. The story moves at a rate to match the horrific vehicle journey with the reader restrained in the passenger seat, and the writing is quick-paced with dialogue that jumps off the page.

I was more interested in certain personalities than others. I was aback by how engrossed I became in the main characters’ stories. Even before I warmed up to the damaged hero of this tale, Spencer, I found myself feeling afraid of and sympathetic toward him. The uncertainty of the individual’s destiny adds friction to an already difficult voyage. The guys function like slack gears in an overworked machine when faced with the threat of casual, agonizing violence. The outcome is rather exciting. Only as Spencer’s optimism, wanes do the dismal circumstances—which in no way are restricted to murder and suicide—become more serious. But this doesn’t happen until the very last second.

The suspense that builds throughout the narrative is frequently overshadowed by utter uncertainty. Naturally, the conclusion, when Spencer’s sobriety reveals the full shape and weight of dread, topples this reality, making for an even more thrilling reading experience. The core plot points of this novel are beautifully written, and Spencer is a completely realized character. Despite my request for a little more detective backstory, I would recommend reading it.
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Published by ‎ Atlantic Monthly Press on November 15, 2022

Spencer Burnham is British. He was once a champion rally racer but moved to Detroit and used his British charm to sell cars after he lost his competitive edge. Now Spencer has problems. Since his wife died, he’s been drinking and doing drugs, trying to kill the pain or dim the memories. The drugs put distance between Spencer and his daughter when she needs him the most. Spencer’s high-end car dealership isn’t paying its bills. His friend Chris is letting Spencer sleep on his couch while Spencer’s daughter sleeps in the spare bedroom. Child Protective Services thinks the daughter is in a dangerous situation. Spencer manages to avoid obeying the rules that CPS imposed on him by shagging the social worker.

Dominic McGrath operates criminal enterprises, including money laundering. He keeps competing drug gangs at war so they’ll be too busy to set up their own laundering operations. McGrath has a driver pick up their drug proceeds and exchange it for clean cash. When McGrath suspects that his driver has become a police informant, he needs a new driver. He thinks Spencer would be perfect for the job.

Some of McGrath’s subordinates aren’t all that sure about Spencer. His accountant Cal is humiliated when Spencer uses Cal’s car to demonstrate his driving skill. Eddie wants to do the driving himself. McGrath’s muscle, the Yo-Yo, is suspicious of everyone. On the other hand, Johnny Boy, a disbarred lawyer for the Chicago mob, believes McGrath is right about Spencer.

Threats and blackmail persuade Spencer to enlist as their pick-up driver, but McGrath really needs him for a scheme to steal the cash a bank intends for an armored car. The scheme requires the kind of precise driving that a rally racer has mastered. Spencer isn’t thrilled about taking a job picking up drug proceeds, but he needs the money and doesn’t want to lose his daughter and what little he has left of his life. He eventually realizes that working for McGrath may trigger the end of his life. He needs to come up with a plan of his own if he’s to survive.

Spencer isn’t an action hero. He takes a few beatings and never gets in a decent punch of his own. He’s a driver, not a tough guy. That makes him a refreshing thriller protagonist. It’s easy to sympathize with Spencer, although a reader will agree with Chris that four years is enough time to mourn a dead wife and get a life together for the sake of a dependent daughter. Whether Spencer will learn that lesson (and you know the answer to that, don’t you?) is the hook that keeps the reader invested in a protagonist who is, in many ways, a good-hearted loser.

The plot is entertaining and generally credible — more credible than many modern thrillers — although the reader will need to slide past a few improbable or unexplained details. Many of the novel’s action scenes center on fast driving. For that reason, Welcome to the Game might make a good movie — a better movie, for sure, than any movie with Fast or Furious in the title. Craig Henderson makes the driving scenes easy to visualize, giving the novel a cinematic quality. Violence isn’t described in gruesome detail, but this is nevertheless a violent novel. Not many characters, good or bad, are still alive when the story ends.

The story could have ended in many ways, but Henderson made surprising choices that assure an unpredictable conclusion. A clever plot and strong characterization make Welcome to the Game one of the better thrillers I’ve read this year.

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Henderson is a British crime novelist who is, here, trying to write an Elmore Leonard type  Detroit crime novel. And in this reader’s opinion , it just doesn’t work. The book is not bad-there are the requisite thrills and fun racing./getaway scenes. But nothing original or unique. It’s. A quick read and you could give it a try but go for Leonard instead.
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Wow what a disappointment. This novel has everything I might want - cars, rally driving, Detroit, crime. It could have been a winner but Crag Henderson has made rally driver Spencer Burnham such an unlikable jerk. If they make a movie out of this book they will have to rewrite him. Yuck.
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I just couldn't get into this one. The pacing was off with bursts of excitement followed by long convoluted sections where the main character ruminates about his self inflicted situation. The point of views changed so often and abruptly that I thought I might get whiplash. Very violent and not quite believable. Not recommended
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This is everything you’re looking for in a gritty action thriller.  The pacing is breakneck, and I couldn’t put this down after I picked it up.  The characters are fully realized and the intricate plot keeps you guessing at every turn.  Add this to your list now!
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This was an excellent debut from Craig Henderson. Former rally driver Spencer Burnham moves to Detroit from his home in England, but the unexpected death of his wife has devastated his life which then had disastrous ramifications for his daughter. As his life has been tipped upside down he meets up with a gangster named Dominic who recruits him to do one more job. Spencer thinks it will be easy... but he does not understand what he has gotten himself into. 

I enjoyed this debut. Craig keeps you on the edge of your seat and keeps the pedal to the metal until the thrilling conclusion.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a great, fun read! Ex-rally driver Spencer Burnham moves to Detroit from his home in England, but the unexpected death of his wife has him unable to function, and he is not there for their daughter, bringing Child Protective Services into his life.  Then he meets gangster Dominic McGrath who is looking to make one last big score so he can retire comfortably, but he needs an outstanding driver to pull off the job, and the promise of big money is too tempting to resist for Spencer.  But he doesn't really know what he has signed up for. Fast-paced with great characters! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my copy of this novel.
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I’m a sucker for cars and driving stuff so this was a welcome change of pace from my usual terrorist hunter type of books. Lots of twists and turns, some of which I could see coming but others left me shocked. Not sure the ending left me happy or not, but overall a solid enjoyable read.
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I really enjoyed this propulsive novel from Craig. I was white knuckling at certain moments throughout the story. Highly reccomend!
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Fast paced and violent,  Spencer is grieving his wife, only wants to the best for his daughter, and now is caught in a trap working for Dominic,  This wasn't for me but I'm sure others will enjoy it.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Would make a great movie.
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This book was pretty good. It was well written. It just wasn't my cup of tea when it comes to the story. The characters were great and the plot was fun though! 3 star read.
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Welcome to the Game, the debut novel of Craig Henderson, comes out on November 15, 2022. Grove Atlantic provided an early galley for review.

As a Michigan resident since 2014, I am always eager to check out novels set in my new home state and in Detroit in particular. That was the initial draw for me to check this one out. For folks who are into cars, racing, and The Fast and the Furious types of films (I am not any of these), that is another entry level draw to this story.

Henderson is Scottish by birth and has been a presenter on the BBC's "Books That Made Britain" series. He has Master's degrees from the University of Edinburgh. So, he has the credentials. But does he know Detroit? Turns out, he has done his research. Not only does he get locations right, he also has mastered the many streets of downtown Motown (very important for a book that involves fast driving). This is fiction though, and I have to say he gives much more credit to the Detroit Lions capabilities than what we residents see week in and week out. For that optimism, I have to appreciate him.

I found the story to be very engaging, and Henderson's writing to be just the right balance for a story such as this. Some characters garnered more of my interest than others. Many walk the very gray area as far as professionalism and morality are concerned. Like a very high-speed chase, the story zigs and zags quite a bit in the last half dozen chapters or so - at times to the point where I found myself a bit disoriented as well. The violence is appropriate for a story dealing with seamy criminal elements.
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A British expat and former racecar driver in America falls in with a gang of criminals and is soon handling the driving for their "jobs." Cinematic. Violent. Fantastically inventive writing. The driving scenes were heart-stopping. Those are the positives. On the flip side, a bit challenging to track at times, many of the characters underdeveloped. Still, there is quite a bit to love here and I look forward for more from this author.
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This book is a little out of my normal genre reads but I am glad I dove in. I think there's a bit more needed to develop this book with the characters that would really bring the reader into the plot. Craig Henderson's writing style though is really quite wonderful and it made me want to continue reading despite some lack of development. 

Would definitely read the author's next novel!


Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC!
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This was a good book, though some of the characters, the detectives in particular, felt a little under developed.  Spencer Burnham, an former rally car driver from Britain, runs a used car dealership in Detroit, which is on the brink of going under. In walks Dominic McGrath a gangster who is looking for a guy that can drive really well. After Spencer's business fails, he agrees to work for Dominic, mostly picking up dirty money from one person and handing it off to  another to make 'clean'. It's a dangerous job since he's dealing mostly with people in the drug trade. A police detective has made it his mission in life to put Dominic and his gang away, blaming them for the majority of gang violence in the city, Dominic manages to stay one step ahead of the police. There is a lot of violence in this book, some of it is a tad on the graphic side but it did not go overboard, these are all people that use violence to solve problems. Dominic decides that one job will be his last, he's planned the robbery of a bank with the help of an inside source and Spencer is the man tagged to do the driving. Spencer had tried to leave the job taking his young daughter and moving out to take a job in another city, Dominic tracks him down and kidnaps his daughter to force him to do the last job.  The driving parts of this book are well described and Spencer is a fully fleshed out character, I  just wish there was a bit more backstory on the detectives, I  would still say it's worth the read.  Thanks to #Netgalley and #Atlantic Monthly Press for the ARC.
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WELCOME TO THE GAME presents one man’s scramble to stay afloat following the gruesome death of his wife. Conquered by costly addictions, CPS’ threat to unburden him of his daughter, and with his business on the verge of collapse, Spencer — a former rally driver — is seduced by the promise of fast, plentiful cash. 

Unfortunately, it’s proffered by a pitiless criminal named Dominic McGrath. Witnessing the man’s crew at work, Spencer quickly learns that any attempt at distancing himself from their operations may prove agonizing, if not outright fatal.

Henderson’s prose has a personality of its own, and it’s as dynamic and captivating as the cars it harbors. From his piercing words, a myriad of characters spills forth, tracing overlapping circuits. Along their length, the cruelty of deeds is contrasted against jovial depictions of wickedness, producing unequivocal humor at every turn.

When dissected, the text reveals an astute use of action verbs. Thanks to them, the piece comes alive, wheezing and snarling at Spencer and the reader alike. The speed with which the plot makes headway is a crucial detail, as it embodies the novel’s unique ambiance. 

As a result, we’re treated to fast cars, fast transitions, and fast derailments. What adds friction to an already bumpy passage is the unpredictability of the characters’ fates. Faced with the menace of casual, bone-scratching violence, the men operate like loose cogs in an overtaxed machine. The result is rather thrilling.

What keeps the gears shifting is the way the narrative alienates us from Spencer at times, allowing us to stay informed while he flounders. And with various characters stepping up to claim the spotlight, a game of ping-pong commences; one between false confidence and foreboding omnipotence.

What follows is a meaty — gory, even — presentation of rationalized violence. Aside from succeeding at horrifying the protagonist, it exposes the missing vein of sympathy in the men he keeps needling. The abundance of moving pieces they direct keeps us on our toes, forcing us to dodge the implications of the raunchy and unflinching scenes tossed our way.

To counterbalance this debauchery, the narrative begins to constrict possessively around Spencer, his daughter, and his best friend. It’s the thought of their survival, not his, that allows him to endure the unspeakable.

Spencer’s tightened grasp of mortality — and the connivance it demands of him — also acts as a catalyst for the emotional growth he’d been vetoing for years.

Throughout the story, there’s a sense of mounting tension, often superseded by plain confusion. We’re conscious of McGrath’s plan, the fragments of which are left intentionally murky, but his designs prove too vague to lure us into a state of anticipation.

Instead, we persevere through the swerves, pit stops, and savagery because of the delightfully despicable natures of the characters we bump into along the way. And so, for the vast majority of the story, we indulge in a gritty comedy of errors.

And yet, the portrayal of Spencer’s world, full of folly and false bravado, proves too upbeat to form the foundation of a convincing thriller. The grim circumstances that arise, in no way limited to murder and suicide, only gain gravity when Spencer’s optimism flags. But this doesn’t occur until the last possible moment.

And, while undeniably well-written, the somewhat disoriented progress of the story fails to inspire true devotion in the reader. The ultimate purpose of every effort is too imprecise, ambition’s drive proves too weak. This, perhaps, comes down to the circuitous nature of the narrative.

Spencer’s entanglement with McGrath’s group is inevitable, his inner monologue glides over the same notions time after time, and his habits stick to him like a second skin.

Of course, this reality is toppled by the climax, when Spencer’s sobriety unveils the true build and poundage of dread; coincidentally leading to a more exhilarating reading experience. And it comes with its own heady aura; one that pastures the reader in coatings of intrigue.
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