Invocation (Nick Ballard #2), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Anthony Steven for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Anthony Steven returns with another explosive thriller that is sure to grip the reader from the opening pages. Building on his series debut, Steven takes the reader much deeper into the mind and troubles of Nick Ballard, with a few new faces to add depth to the world of premonitions and spirit communication. DCI Kate Garvey is still trying to come to terms with a close brush with death while apprehending a serial killer in Scotland. With a new superior, Garvey is tasked with working through a chilling case, as a handful of women are dumped on a rural road, after being tortured and brutally murdered. She seeks help from Nick Ballard, a man who can visualise those who are being attacked, but the man is not up to the game. With some issues in her own personal life, DCI Garvey will have to collect her thoughts in order to make it all work, all while someone is watching her every move and criticising each mistake she makes.

It’s been a rough go for Nick Ballard since he returned from Scotland. Self-medicating so that he can no longer have the visions that haunt him, Ballard has developed quite an addiction that has him in rough shape. Add to that, he has spent much time thinking about a woman who tried to help him with his premonition abilities, Susan Carver. While Susan is dead, her daughter has kept up a loose relationship with Ballard and introduced him to another fellow with some other eerie abilities. John Rennick seems to be able to communicate with those in the afterlife, a seemingly unique trait that has brought him mixed results.

DCI Kate Garvey is also reeling from the events in Scotland, lucky to be alive and have her son, Rob, as well. While she tries to put it all back together, DCI Garvey has to work with a new commanding officer, one who demands more each day. While Garvey has reached out to Ballard, he’s not responded at all, as though there is some animosity between them. When a handful of women are found on the outskirts of London, DCI Garvey must take the lead and could really use Ballard’s help to piece it all together.

Lurking in the shadows is a serial killer, the likes of which few have ever encountered. With a horrible childhood disfigurement and an appetite for vengeance, a ploy to lure young women away from the streets has been working, though the results are less a saviour of the troubled and more a means of scratching an itch that has been building for the killer. The latest target, a young woman with a baby she never wanted, proves to be one that will resonate with many, putting DCI Garvey on the defensive while she seeks to keep her professional demeanor. It will take not only a sober Nick Ballard to help, but also might require the help of another man, John Rennick, whose skills with those who have passed on are invaluable, to locate the killer and find justice for the vulnerable.

It’s a race to find a faceless killer, one who lurks on the dirtiest streets and has a message to broadcast, much like the Bible Verse Killer did in years past. DCI Garvey has her work cut out for her in this one, which demands leadership, swiftness, and attention to detail. The pressure’s on and the clock is surely ticking. Anthony Steven does well in this follow-up thriller that builds on the past novel, as well as two novellas/short stories, all of which provide needed pieces for this chilling thriller.

After stumbling upon the series debut, I was unsure what to expect. I was not blown away, but was happy to give Anthony Steven another try when he reached out with an ARC for the second novel. I can see much growth and the writing works well, particularly if readers have taken the time to also devour the two novellas that are available on Steven’s website (have a look!). There is depth and a great deal of action, leaving the reader to connect early and often with the likes of Ballard, DCI Garvey, and a few new faces that make an impact throughout.

Ballard and DCI Garvey are both in fine form throughout this piece, putting their personal and professional lives out there for readers. Both have suffered a great deal since their time in Scotland, though Garvey has been able to pick up the pieces, while Ballard has fallen down a dark hole and turned to Ativan. The struggles that both protagonists show are definitely not lost on the reader, though it is how they each find an effective turning point that truly excites things as the story progresses. Nick Ballard has much to prove to himself and those around him, though he remains his own worst enemy. DCI Garvey, on the other hand, must impress a new superior and juggle the strains of some jarring personal news that could knock her off her proverbial perch.

Steven does a wonderful job adding depth and flavour to the story with a handful of keen supporting characters. There is much to tell in the area of backstory and these characters do a masterful job at highlighting key plot points throughout the process. Some, like John Rennick, are memorable because they have already shone some of the limelight on themselves with a novella about their early exploits. Others complement Ballard and Garvey, while there are some who help keep the likes of Susan Carver (a minor character in her own right in the debut) alive through dialogue and memories. Steven definitely does not suffer from a shortage of characters, leaving it up to the reader to keep things in line.

Anthony Steven may be guilty of having too many balls in the air at one time, but he handles it a great deal better than he had previously. There is a great deal to process and handle, but I felt more prepared this time around. The narrative is strong and keeps the reader enthused as they inch their way into the middle of a major crime scene, interspersing the larger story with narratives directly about the serial killer. This approach offers wonderful eerieness to the story and kept me wanting to know a little more. The characters were on point and the plot evolved effectively for me as I made my way through this piece. A mix of chapter lengths left me wanting more and kept me pushing ahead, leaving it only to be work and the need for sleep that forced breaking this up a little more than I would have liked. I was quite impressed with this piece and will be keeping my eyes open for more by Anthony Steven in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great novel that will garner many fans for you, of this I am sure!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Rennick (Nick Ballard #2.1), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

As a means to promote his newest novel (which I was asked to read ahead of publication), Anthony Steven penned this short piece about one of the characters I suppose will play a role in the novel. Steven pulls the reader in from the outset and shows that those with special abilities can and do leave an indelible mark on others. A chilling tale of a boy who is labelled as mentally ill but whose connection with the other side could help solve a crime. Add to that, it’s free on his website, so have a gander.

John Rennick could not have imagined what awaited him when he attended his first day of school. An apparition made itself known, much like his Grandad, and offered a warning. Later that day, John returned home to discover tragedy in his house, which forced him into foster care. Before departing, John offers a warning to DC Andrea Davies and her partner, one that seems ominous and out of context. Still, it sticks with Davies for years to come.

When a boy goes missing in John’s group home, the police come around to investigate. DC Davies happens to be one the case and remembers Rennick, mainly because of his prophecy. When he tells of another communication with someone who’s crossed to the other side, Davies is keen to listen, in hopes that it might shed some light on the case.

I only encountered Anthony Steven last summer when I was asked to read one of his novels. I was impressed enough to be keen to accept the assignment yet again with the second novel in the Nick Ballard series. Before delving in, this short piece seemed the perfect introduction to what would be to come. Steven offers readers a great piece that begins with a bang and whose intensity never dissipates. There is some great character development and decent backstory that will surely serve me well when I tackle the novel in the coming days. Short chapters pushed the story along, while there were some wonderful cliffhanger moments. This has me excited to see how Steven has improved his writing style and attention to detail in the complemented full-length novel. A wonderful appetizer to whet the reading appetite.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great short piece. You have me excited and ready to go.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Susan Carver: A Novella (Nick Ballard #0.5), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

After reading Anthony Steven’s debut novel, I turned to this novella that was on offer (for free!) through his website. The piece sheds some light on one of the minor characters from Catechism, while provided a little backstory about how another’s psychic abilities came to light. Susan Carver was a community nurse back in 1987, making her rounds to see various patients. When she entered the home of one elderly man, she knew something was amiss, primarily because he lay murdered in his home hospital bed. Susan found herself face to face with a madman who took her captive and locked her away with a number of other murdered women, wrapped in polythene. Called ‘Sally’ and ordered to answer questions to save her life, Susan thought back to an earlier time, when she approached a fortune teller at a fair back in 1978. There, she was told that she had abilities deep inside her that were waiting to be tapped. As she awaited certain death at the hands of this madman, Susan pulled on those hidden powers to find a solution to this dilemma, which was sure to have dire consequences if she could not act quickly. A great little piece that offers a little backstory for the Susan Carver character that meets and engages with Nick Ballard in Steven’s debut novel. Recommended for those who enjoyed Catechism, as well as the reader who needs something to fill their coffee break time.

While I read the aforementioned novel in a single day, I was able to complete this novella in one sitting and feel that it went well for me. Steven has a wonderful grasp of writing and presents his ideas clearly while keeping the reader guessing throughout. There is little time for much character development when it comes to Susan Carver, but Steven gives just enough for the reader to care and want more. Touching on her first experience with the psychic world, Susan dismisses it at the time, but comes to see its importance when she is face with imminent danger. The banter between Susan and her captor provides the story with an added edge and served to fill some of the pages of this piece that has little time to lag. While the story does not connect officially toy Steven’s novel (and will likely play no bridge to the second, as readers of the first novel will understand), it proved to be on point and effective in conveying some needed backstory for the curious reader. Quick chapters and forthright storytelling keep the reader engaged and wanting more, though I am unsure how long until the second in the Nick Ballard novels emerges to lure yet more fans of the series. Now then, how to spend my time waiting?

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great piece that took no time at all to read and enjoy! What else have you got in store for everyone?

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Catechism (Nick Ballard #1), by Anthony Steven

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Anthony Steven for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Eager to try something new with religious undertones, I turned to this debut thriller by Anthony Steven. A little police procedural with a peppering of psychic intervention, Steven seeks to carve out his own niche in the supersaturated genre. Nick Ballard is a former television psychic who all but lost everything when his wife died. Now, he has these odd visions that put him in the body of murder victims, allowing him to feel their pain the moment of their deaths. When Ballard goes to the police, DCI Kate Garvey is not sure what to make of it. At first, Garvey suspects that Ballard might be involved, as he seems to know too much with details not released to the public. However, she begins to see that he might know something useful and could be an insight into the actual killer. With a killer who leaves biblical references at the crime scenes, Garvey can only wonder if this is a man on some sort of cleansing mission. Seeking help with his psychic abilities, Ballard reaches out to someone who might be able to explain it, though it is by no means the answer he expected. When the killer’s rampage continues, things take a horrifying turn and Garvey must risk it all and trust in Ballard to help bring things together before they come crashing down around everyone. A decent debut with some great action, Steven does well to make his mark. Recommended to those who like their police procedurals from a different approach, as well as readers who need something quick to pass the time.

I stumbled upon this piece, unsure what to expect. While I was not blown away, Anthony Steven did keep my attention throughout, enough that I powered through this piece in a single day. There is a great deal going on in here, particularly with the two main characters. Nick Ballard has been gifted with his psychic abilities, though they have been a curse for him since he was a lad. Able to read minds and happy to share what he sees, Ballard has found himself in more trouble than the talent seems worth. With some interesting backstory, Steven tells of Ballard’s struggles before it all came crashing down, leaving the protagonist to fall into a bottle as he tries to drown the pain. His interaction with Susan Carter is an interesting part of the novel, a character Steven promises to explore more thoroughly in a free novella available on his website. DCI Kate Garvey has her own story that flavours the piece. Building on her single mother backstory, Garvey is trying to do it all while holding down a senior position within the Metropolitan Police. Her work comes first, though she tries to find time for her adult son who is all but ready to disown her. She is sceptical about Ballard, but must trust him to some degree if she wants to make progress and remove her head from the proverbial noose. In a story that mixes religious messaging with psychic undertones, Anthony Steven spreads himself a little thin and dabbles a little in both, diluting what could have been an even more powerful and edgy piece. While the narrative is saved with quick chapters that push things along, I sought more ‘creepy’ factor to really get to the heart of the matter. I hope the aforementioned free novella offers a little more, as I can only wonder what the second full novel in the series (listened on Steven’s website) will become without some added pep. I will continue with the series, but want more action and deeper connection to the characters. There is a definite plot pathway, but something to pull me and leave me hungering for more.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for this debut effort. I need more, though I found myself wanting to keep reading repeatedly throughout this one-day adventure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons