When is a book not a book? When it’s three books. Doors by Markus Heitz is a three-book, not-a-trilogy, that functions as a fun storytelling experiment whilst delivering a triple whammy of slightly preposterous thriller action.
What is Doors by Markus Heitz?
First up, this is not a fantasy trilogy. Each book stands on its own, yet tells a story using the same characters. In fact, the first 97 pages of each volume are exactly the same. You can pick any of the three books to begin your adventure and when you do, you’re treated to this intriguing message:
“If you would like to know how Viktor von Troneg and his team of experts came to be tasked with rescuing Anna-Lena van Dam and how they managed to enter the cave system beneath the van Dam estate, read from the begnning.
If you would like to go straight to the door marked with *, please start with Chapter IV on page 97″
On my first read, I wondered why on earth I would want to skip nearly 100 pages. When I picked up book 2, it soon became clear. The “*” in the above quote is my own addition. On page 96 of each of the Doors novels, the characters are confronted with a choice. Three doors; which one to open. One is marked with a “?,” one with a “!,” and one with an “X.” The door chosen corresponds to the symbol that sits in the “O” of the title font on the front cover.
The books then tell what might have happened depending on which door the characters chose.
I started with !, subtitled Field of Blood, but it doesn’t matter where you begin.
The premise for the stories is that Anna-Lena van Dam, the daughter of a reclusive billionaire has gone missing. Her father has assembled a team of operatives to bring her back. She disappeared into a cave complex on the Van Dam estate. The money on offer is impressive, but once the expedition begins, it is apparent there is far more going on than the explorers were told.
Nominally, the team is made up of two ex-special forces soldiers, a professional bodyguard, a geologist and speleologist, an expert in occult science (whatever that is), and a medium. The inclusion of the last two tells us (if we haven’t already read the blurbs on the backs of the books) that something freaky is happening under the Van Dam estate.
In the build-up to the opening of the doors, we learn that a number of the people being sent down to caves aren’t what they seem. They all have a dark secret or two. There is also strong evidence that Van Dam isn’t telling the whole story, and that some other ruthless people are navigating the cave system, but in search of what, who knows?
As we approach page 97, there are compelling reasons why Anna-Lena might have entered any one of the doors and which one our heroes decide to open is dependant entirely on which book you’re reading. In all cases the decision makes sense.
Through one door, the characters find themselves in medieval Europe, through another, Nazi Germany, and the other door leads, initially at least, to a point in the future. The two doors that lead to the past also lead to an alternative history that adds further intrigue to proceedings.
Why Read Doors?
I do love a literary experiment, and whilst this one isn’t exactly pushing back the frontiers of literature, it is a fun narrative exercise. Thanks to the magic of the doors, we get to see how the same characters react to three distinctly different sets of circumstances. After we’ve read our first choice of novel, we go into the second knowing things about the characters, that are yet to be revealed within the confines of the new book. Some things never come to light. It’s interesting, that depending on the order in which you read the books, your interpretation of a particular character’s actions might be completely different from somebody who read the books in a different order.
Our first read informs our feelings about subsequent choices. We begin to know what might happen because we already know how the characters reacted previously. We know secrets, we know about hidden bonds, we know about strengths we know about weaknesses and failings. And, boy, are there a lot of failings. This is a hilariously flawed group for a crack team on a rescue mission.
The books reminded me in many ways of a Dan Brown novel. I’ll leave you to decide whether that is a good or bad thing. They are very compelling reads. You’re definitely driven to find out what is going on, almost as desperate as the characters in the story to discover the secrets of the doors. Characterization is rather patchy, and some descriptive passages and sections of dialogue were enough to make this grown man wince. Perhaps it;s a problem of translation. The original novels were written in German, an some choices of phrase did pull me out of the story. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed reading all three books.
Each novel very much has its own distinct flavor, brought about by the vastly different timeframes the books are set in. It’s not a total success. The novel set in the past, Fields of Blood, in particular, feels clunky in places. There’s a huge suspension of belief required to be convinced that a group of armed 21st Century tourists could slot so seamlessly into medieval life, and have such a working knowledge of language and customs. Fields of Blood is probably the weakest of the three novels, but it does have some juicy reveals in it, so worth reading for those alone!
The other 2 novels, being closer in time to our own, work better. It’s more plausible that the investigation team slotted into their lives in the new location. I enjoyed the counter-factual WWII of Colony, and the intrigue and skullduggery that came with it. Twilight is probably the most interesting of the three from a narrative point of view, though it is also the book I read last, so perhaps I was full of all the facts I needed to fully appreciate it. I found its future world compelling, and it is in this book we learn most about the doors and the forces that control them.
There are many strands here that could lead to future novels. I’m not sure we’ll ever see them, but I would definitely read more if they did arrive. The doors here are a tip of an iceberg of science-fictional intrigue and there’s potential for a fascinating multiverse to be built. One could almost see this becoming a multi-author project, with different contributors building on the door mythology. With each portal leading to a different reality, everything and anything is possible.
I have no idea what, if anything, will happen to the Doors universe. For now, Markus Heitz has treated us to an inventive idea and three thrilling novels that entertain throughout. Whilst not perfect, they have the right combination of ingredients to make a trio of diverting summer reads.
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other books reviews, here.
I received copies of these books in order to write this review.