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