Belmont County Lawyer Celebrates First Publication

As a lawyer with a journalism degree, Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter had a dream of becoming a published author. His dream came true with the recent publication of his novel, “Heir to the Throne.”

Berhalter appeared at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, May 17, to discuss the book and talk about his writing ambition. Offering the Lunch With Books audience a tantalizing taste of the novel without giving away the plot, he read the book jacket description and the prologue of his fictional work. The premise of the novel, he said, is an examination of “what if something we were taught was wrong.”

In this “what if” book, he said, the characters find out that a piece of history was taught incorrectly and they deal with the consequences of that knowledge. Berhalter said his book has been called a historical thriller, a political thriller and a novel of suspense.

A description of “Heir to the Throne” states: “The book follows presidential candidate Fred Downey who discovers a mystery concerning his late mother’s estate that leads to more discoveries that endanger his political career, his own life and the lives of those he loves. The man who has never failed to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, now faces his greatest test.” The prologue suggests a post-war connection to prominent Nazis.

The new author said he is pleased with the reception of his novel since its release by Aberdeen Bay, a small independent publisher in Manassas, Va. Reviews have indicated that “people have read and enjoyed it,” he said. The book is available for purchase at Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble and on

A self-described “history geek,” Berhalter said the idea for the novel “popped into my head as I was watching the History Channel.”

Regarding the novel’s concept, he said, “The other story line is just as important as the surprise.” He added, “I could use this event that was in the past, but it was close enough that it could still be relevant … I wanted to make sure the main events in the book occur now.”

The plot “is certainly fiction, but I wanted to have enough facts to make it believable,” the author said.

Amid a busy law practice and active family life, Berhalter decided to pursue his literary dream and began writing by hand on legal pads “while waiting for court cases to be called.” After finishing the book, he presented it to his wife, sister and parents as a Christmas gift. When he ran for prosecuting attorney, he put the project aside.

About two years ago, he started trying to secure a publisher for his finished work. “I wasn’t going to let time stop me from working on getting this book published,” he said.

Soon, he discovered the Catch-22 of publishing: to get a book published, an author needs an agent, but to secure an agent, a writer must have work in print. “I could have self-published, but my dream was to be a published author,” he remarked.

Berhalter began writing letters to publishing firms, and Aberdeen Bay was the first to respond. Six weeks later, officials from Aberdeen Bay had read the manuscript and were ready to publish the novel.

Now, the publisher is trying to get movie rights for the book, but Berhalter has learned that the process also “is a convoluted circle.”

He held his first book signing at the Martins Ferry Public Library, where he sold more than 100 copies and donated the proceeds to the library. Berhalter said he receives small royalty checks regularly, but acknowledged that “I’m not going to get rich” or become the next John Grisham.

As to future endeavors, Berhalter said that if time allowed, “I would love to write another (book) … If an opportunity presents itself, I really want to.”

Berhalter, who was born in Wheeling, grew up in rural Belmont County. He graduated from St. John Central High School and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a law degree from The Ohio State University. Before becoming prosecutor six years ago, he was a partner in the Martins Ferry law firm of Sommer, Liberati & Berhalter.

He and his wife, Vanessa, and their three children live on a Colerain farm that he describes as “my kids’ petting zoo.”