Murder and Machinations in Jaclyn Goldis’s The Main Character

The author of The Chateau evokes Agatha Christie in her latest mystery about a dream vacation on the Orient Express that turns tragic.

Fiction Recommendations Thriller & Mystery
The Main Character by Jaclyn Goldis book cover in front of a map of Italy and surrounded by a blood splatter and a train.

In 2023, author Jaclyn Goldis enraptured readers with her debut mystery, The Chateau, which tells the story of a girls’ trip to a lavish French mansion that devolves into a murderous nightmare fueled by revenge. Now, she’s back with her latest novel, The Main Character, a spellbinding thriller about an enigmatic writer who designs an opulent train trip along the Italian coast that isn’t quite what it seems. Here’s everything you need to know before The Main Character drops on May 21st!

Synopsis

Ginerva Ex is a bestselling mystery author known for her atypical approach to constructing characters — all of her protagonists are inspired by real people whom she interviews extensively and then fictionalizes. Ginerva’s latest main character is Rory Aronov, a down-on-her-luck ex-newscaster desperately in need of the $100,000 paycheck she’s receiving to let Ginerva excavate her biggest insecurities, secrets, and shortcomings. It also doesn’t hurt that Rory’s surprise severance package at the end of this ordeal is a luxurious, all-expenses-paid tour of the Italian coast on the newly renovated Orient Express. However, what Rory doesn’t know is that Ginerva has also invited Rory’s brother, best friend, and ex-fiancé to this farewell trip. And they’re all harboring dire secrets from Rory.

The Main Character cover by Jaclyn Goldis, a golden train ticket in front of the Italian coastline.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

As the journey unfolds, it becomes clear Ginerva isn’t quite through pulling strings in Rory’s life. And when she begins to uncover the true motivations of each of her travel companions, Rory worries she’s being set up for a novel-worthy ending. A realization made exponentially more terrifying by the fact that all of Ginerva’s novels end in murder. To make it out alive, Rory must get to the bottom of Ginerva’s master plan, all the while confronting life-altering revelations about the people she holds most dear.

A Heart-Pounding Thriller

Amidst the picturesque backdrop of the Orient Express’s grandeur, The Main Character teems with foreboding suspense, interpersonal conflict, and unreliable narrators — all the makings of an unputdownable thriller.

Goldis knows precisely how to subvert expectations, dropping hints that lead readers to one conclusion when the truth is something entirely contrary and unexpected. And while the abruptness of a few of these reveals is jarring, their emotional and thematic resonance more than makes up for the untapped potential of some of the clumsier foreshadowing and ill-executed plot twists.

Hercule Poirot standing in front of the Orient Express in a flowing black jacket.
IMAGE VIA 20TH CENTURY FOX

The Main Character’s central mysteries are deeply personal ones that threaten to upend everything Rory knows about herself and her loved ones. Thus, we spend a lot of time in Rory’s thoughts (as well as those of the other travelers) as she tries to parse the truth behind the mounting series of clues she uncovers during her trip. At times, this abundant introspection slows the pacing to a meander as we await the next action-packed moment or earth-shattering revelation; fortunately, Rory’s wit and intellect make these long stretches of interiority engaging and immersive.

The story’s multiple points of view provide valuable insight into the clashing belief systems of Rory’s unconventional found family, driving up the tension until it explodes in a shocking finale.

A Tribute to Agatha Christie

Let’s be honest—nowhere has murder seemed more alluring than on the Orient Express.

From the very beginning, this novel is unblushing in its reverence for one of the most beloved whodunits of all time, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. In Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, famed detective Hercule Poirot must investigate the death of a millionaire found murdered in his cabin on the Orient Express and unmask the killer before they strike again. However, this proves to be no easy feat, as the train just so happens to be filled with the millionaire’s enemies, each possessing their own reason for wanting him dead. The stakes are similarly high for Goldis’s protagonist, Rory, who finds herself on the Orient Express with three of the most important people in her life, all of whom are hiding a secret they just might kill to keep.

Murder on the Orient Express cover by Agatha Christie, a train driving across the cover as red smoke billows overhead.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

Equally eccentric as Christie’s acclaimed detective is Goldis’s reclusive author, Ginerva Ex. Each has a defining physical feature that encapsulates their quirks: for Poirot, it’s his signature curled mustache; for Ginerva, it’s her electric purple hair. But that’s not where the similarities end. Both characters are extremely detail-oriented and one-minded in their desire to get to the bottom of a riveting mystery. With their shared penchant for analyzing human behavior, they’re able to unearth the dark secrets most people would rather keep buried. In Poirot’s case, this talent for seeing through people is a tool that helps him solve each case with ease; Ginerva’s sleuthing abilities, however, serve to catalyze the deadly turn this train trip takes, putting all the pieces in place for the perfect crime, whether intentionally or not.

This story very clearly pays homage to the history of the mystery genre and Agatha Christie in particular. Goldis’s respect for the literary legends who came before her allows her to reimagine a classic tale for modern times and take readers on a journey that is both deliciously twisty and surprisingly heartfelt.

A Testament to the Power of Reclaiming Your Narrative

‘I don’t want to be anyone’s main character again…I need to write my own script.’

As the book title suggests, one of The Main Character’s most prominent themes is about who controls our personal narratives. Sometimes, without even knowing, we let other people shape the trajectory of our lives, from our career choices to our relationships to our worldview. And as Rory comes to learn, when other people write the script for us, they don’t always have the purest intentions.

An old-fashioned typewriters sitting on top of a wooden desk.
IMAGE VIA CANVA

This book is a reminder that we’re all in charge of our own stories. Only we can decide how to live in a way that is most authentic and fulfilling to us, so we can’t allow others to compromise our happiness by dictating our decisions. And if you ever feel like your story is veering off in a direction that no longer serves you, you can always choose to start a new chapter.

A Story All Readers Can Relate To

The thing Ginerva hated most about reading was the last page, when all of a sudden she’d feel a tidal ache. They were gone, all of them. All her friends, all the pages she’d lost herself inside. As an adult, she thought of it as a little death. That’s what the French call an orgasm. And she supposed that was what it was—the height of pleasure, and then nothingness again, just Ginerva all alone with herself. The End.

A woman reading a book at a picnic with a spread of fruit.
IMAGE VIA CANVA

Some of the best novels are long-form love letters to the medium itself, books that unashamedly sing the virtues of storytelling and authorship to anyone who will listen — or read. The Main Character is one such book. Within these pages, Goldis makes clear her appreciation not only for Dame Agatha and her revered catalog of mysteries but also for stories in general. Brimming with embedded tales, this metanarrative examines how fiction and reality mesh in ways that lay bare our most intimate truths.

Final Thoughts

The Main Character delivers an enthralling narrative about self-acceptance, letting go of the shackles of the past, and forging your own path free from the debilitating burden of others’ expectations. A harmonious culmination of the author’s passions — from her love of Italy to her deep admiration for Agatha Christie to her pride in her Jewish heritage — this book draws from Goldis’s deep well of life experiences, namely her worldwide travels and family history, to transport readers to a world of luxury, legacy, and lies. Goldis channels both enduring icons of the genre and modern mystery marvels like Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley in this story that seeks to reinvent a timeless classic.

Jaclyn Goldis sitting on a grey couch and smiling.
IMAGE VIA JACLYN GOLDIS

You’ll love The Main Character if you enjoyed these books:

Bookstr’s The Main Character Dream Cast:

  • Emmy Rossum as Rory Aronov, the main character
  • Patricia Arquette as Ginerva Ex, the eccentric author
  • Logan Lerman as Max Aronov, Rory’s brilliant older brother
  • Dianna Agron as Caroline, Rory’s lifelong best friend
  • Chace Crawford as Nate, Rory’s golden-boy ex-fiancé
  • Justin Baldoni as Gabriele, Ginerva’s hot Italian lawyer

Final Score: 4/5

If you want to add The Main Character to your TBR, you can preorder it here! Thank you to Atria Books for providing an arc in exchange for an honest review.


For more exciting May releases, click here!

To browse more books like this, check out Bookstr’s Mystery shelf on Bookshop!

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