When Frank Berardi began at Ohio State this fall, he had several credentials under his belt that set him apart from a lot of other 18-year-olds, including his recent novel, “Voice,” a 360-page psychological suspense thriller.
Berardi — a first-year in political science and journalism — wrote the book in five months and had it published in May through a self-publishing company called AuthorHouse, he said.
The plot of “Voice” hones in on the journey that Ben Zyler, a young adult who owns his deceased parents’ Las Vegas-based casino business, takes after being falsely accused of major crimes, including embezzlement.
Zyler’s accuser comes in the form of the Voice — hence the title — which he first hears in an ominous phone call. Berardi presents the Voice both as Zyler’s unseen enemy and a metaphor for the inner demons he must confront amid the fight to prove his innocence.
“The Voice … has a cruel sense of humor and sinister expression of creativity,” the book’s synopsis reads. “Pulling Ben and his closest companions deeper into a labyrinth of mental struggles, it tests human strength and challenges moral convictions.”
Throughout the novel, Zyler discovers more about himself, as well as the elements of human nature and ethics. He must ask himself how far he’s willing to go to take down the enemy, or further yet, his inner-self, Berardi said.
“Because morality, at its core, limits us from doing things we might otherwise be tempted to have, and this voice pushes these limits,” Berardi said. “Thrusting us into that boundary of something we might ambitiously desire, but are ethically held from.”
“Voice” was largely inspired by an internship Berardi completed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Although the position is traditionally reserved for college students, Berardi completed it prior to his final year of high school. He said his duties included reading and analyzing court opinions and other documents and he also attended a good number of trials.
“The legal aspect of things was so fascinating,” he said in regard to trials of morality. “And I wanted to transfer that knowledge into a large piece of work.”
Despite the in-depth characterization and story-line, no people or events in the book are based on actual occurrences, he said. Berardi attributed the novel’s existence to the support and advice of his former English teacher, Kathi Kish, who is now retired from the middle school she taught at in Berardi’s hometown, St. Clairsville, Ohio, and did not return phone calls for comment.
Paul Morgan, news director of radio station WWVA in Wheeling, W.Va., interviewed Berardi in June on his segment “Weekend Focus” and has since read “Voice,” he said.
Morgan was impressed not only with how much Berardi has accomplished at such a young age, but also with the skill level of his achievements. He said the book is for all audiences and, despite its intricacy, is easy to stay focused on.
“It definitely plays on all of the emotions, and there was never any lull,” Morgan said. “Just when it would go one way, it would twist and turn another direction.”
Morgan added that because he spends most of his day reading news scripts, he usually doesn’t want to read much by the time he gets home. If he does read fiction, he tends to prefer mystery novels by authors like James Patterson, whom he considers one of his favorites.
“But Frank’s book did it — it really captured me, I just couldn’t put it down,” he said. “So James Patterson has some competition now.”
Berardi’s ambition can be seen in some of his other endeavors, including volunteer work, being a highly active Eagle Scout and participating in performing arts organizations.
“Voice” was the first book Berardi published, but not the first full novel he’s written, he said.
“If I have a problem or a bad day, that’s how I deal with it … I write,” Berardi said. “I write because it comforts me, it soothes me. I’ll just sit down and write anything, even a bunch of random words.”
Berardi — whose name appears as “F.J. Berardi” on his novel — will have a book signing Nov. 11 from 7–8 p.m. at Barnes and Noble at 1598 N. High St. The store doesn’t carry “Voice” regularly, so copies are being brought in specifically for the event and will be available for purchase, said Kathy Smith, the store’s manager.
“This is a gift that not everybody has, and I hope he continues to share it with us,” Morgan said. “And I actually have a question for Frank: When’s the next book?”