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When the film of the Exorcist was first released to all of the accompanying now well known `who-ha' I went to see what all the fuss was about and came away unimpressed. That night I woke about 3 a.m. and gradually it occurred to me what I'd seen the night before and a feeling of dread increasingly overcame me. Reading this book was a similar experience. The prose style is quite plain, in keeping with a straightforward narrative account of a man who feels compelled to record certain experiences he's had for the benefit of others. The opening scenes are set in Edinburgh and centre on an academic sociologist who is given a contract at the university to conduct research into the prevalence of satanic cults in and around the city. He begins by insinuating himself into various groups in order to learn more about their affairs and to use their libraries. Eventually, he gets `taken up' by one of the city's leading barristers who is a member of one such cult, The Fraternity of the Old Path, who offers to act as a kind of mentor and allow him access to valuable literary resources that would otherwise be `forbidden'. From the outset he senses that his mentor might potentially be a dangerous man to know but he cannot turn down the opportunities he presents. After a fairly prosaic beginning, there is a progressive feeling of dread emanating from the narrative as though the protagonist is being drawn, in spite of his knowledge of the consequences, into a dark shadowy world that is palpably evil and from which there is no turning back.

Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has been mentioned elsewhere in relation to this novel and I can almost understand why. I'm a fan of Lovecraft and find his stories, for the most part, entertaining. However, when you read him you know it's simply gloriously hyperbolic entertainment; similarly, with Le Fanu, M. R. James, Stephen King etc. Aycliffe's sublime skill, as far as this novel goes, is that when reading it, you forget it's fiction and really come to believe that there do exist those who are in possession of certain arcane knowledge and evil enough to use it with fatal consequences. The closest that anything comes to capturing the same feeling of palpable menace I can think of are Susan Hill's, The Woman in Black (the book not the film!), the BBC's M. R. James productions of a few decades back: A Warning to the Curious and Oh Whistle and I'll Come to Thee. In film I suppose the closest would be the films of Jacques Tourneur; for example, Night of the Demon, itself based upon the James story, Casting of the Runes.

The book's influences are readily visible: nevertheless, it remains a masterpiece of its kind and the author has never quite reached the same heights again although The Lost comes close.
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on 7 January 2014
Jonathan Aycliffe has written a few novels, all excellent, that fall into the 'English Ghost Story' tradition. This is one of his finest, deeply influenced by other masters of the genre, most notably M.R.James, it tracks the journey of a young Scottish academic into an entanglement with the occult. A bereaved, rather fragile, young man falls into the company of a sinister leader of a powerful cult and learns that there is a dark side. Aycliffe does not add a great deal that is new to his re-working of well-used theme, but it is chillingly realised and a sense of oppressive horror runs through the novel. A good read for a dark winter's night.
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on 7 March 2012
I read all of Jonathan Aycliffe's books about 15 years ago whilst a student and I've just started to re-read them, they are exquisitely written, dark, compelling and disturbing. At the time I remembered them as being the most sinister and haunting 'things' I had ever encountered; I haven't changed my mind. What I can't understand is why he is not a world best selling author?
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on 7 January 2004
I'm a big fan of Jonathan Aycliffe - especially of this, his best book yet.
I hate being classed as a horror fan, because so much of what passes for horror is mindless drivel. As a teenager, I read lots of MR James, Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft (as well as the short stories of Daphne Du Maurier, which I strongly recommend) I got a taste for horror that was classy, understated, literary and very very chilling.
Aycliffe fits that category. The Matrix is a wonderfully evocative modern tale of necromancy stretching from the grey city streets of Edinburgh to the noisy exotic bazaars of Morocco. Andrew McLeod throws himself into his university career following the death of his young wife, but soon becomes entangled with a sinister sect, obsessed with the pursuit of eternal life and raising the dead.
Classy, camp and chilling, this is a rivetting read. I've lent it round, and all my friends adored it (even if it gave them sleepless nights!)
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on 17 October 2008
I first read this book a good few years ago and yet the memory has stayed with me since, such did the content affect me. Out of all the so called 'horror' stories I have read, this is the only one which I have found genuinely disturbing. This is a very atmospheric, menacing and brooding tale of pure evil that fully deserves five stars. I bought it again recently and you are not quite sure whether you really comfortable with it sat there on your bookshelf! Very cold, dark and icy and a little too realistic for comfort. The only genuinely frightening horror tale I have ever read and a masterpiece for the author, well worth a read.
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I'd like to point out that The Matrix was originally published in 1994 and it's true to say some of the themes now seem somewhat old fashioned and the dialogue's dated. Try and stay with it. Although not a modern horror, by any means, I found this pacy, intelligently written supernatural mystery thoroughly enjoyable though not remotely scary.

Aycliffe writes in a style that's more about mystery and intrigue, building an atmosphere, than it is about making you leap off the edge of your seat and he does it well. His intelligent plotting and character development make him quite unique in this genre and set him apart from contemporary horror writers who rely much more on the shock factor.

The core of The Matrix features the character of Andrew Macleod, recently widowed, a man reeling from the effects of grief and unable to come to terms with the loss of his wife. In the midst of his sorrow Andrew begins to look for answers, and hope, in the field of black magic where he becomes embroiled in the life of the deviant Duncan Mylne a master of the arcane and generally 'nasty'. As the plot moves along it becomes more and more obvious how dangerous Mylne is becoming but; the only person who can't see it is Andrew who buries his head in the sand and refuses to listen to the warnings. Events continue to build through a series of eerie supernatural scenes until people begin the die, ghostly entities arrive and we are introduced to the Matrix and possibly the secret of eternal life.

Good storytelling, well crafted, enjoyable tale of betrayal and the supernatural.
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on 30 April 2008
One of the finest examples of fiction I have ever come across. The story itself is spread only over 200 pages, unlike many of horror's other offerings, and the language is both precise and appropriate to the subject matter. No words are wasted, Mr Aycliffe (to use his nom-de-plum) is at the peak of his craft.

Like much of his other work, there is a strong Edwardian feel, much in the same vein as M R James, whom Aycliffe acknowledges as a huge influence, however this more traditional macabre genre is invested with a much darker overtone than the aforementioned, presenting the reader with some genuinely chilling images of demonic entities, the walking dead etc.

I have read this book about four times in the last six years, it is that good. A more gripping occult novel you'll be hard pushed to find. This story of a man slowly drawn into the horrific world of a black magician, from whom he then later tries to escape, will leave you haunted.
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on 22 November 2014
I won't go into the details of the story as this has been covered by other reviewers. It is a creepy story with no huge surprises but it will carry you along to the final page with an increasing sense of foreboding. You have to suspend your belief a little, of course, and it did take me a little while to be drawn in but I enjoyed how Jonathan Aycliffe lead me thorough a fantastical tale that still remains plausible. It is a story that allows your imagination to work along with the story. I rather like a supernatural, creepy, ghostly type of story when the winter nights arrive and will be investigating other titles by this author.
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on 19 December 2013
Old fashioned horror story, Andrew Macleod becomes obsessed with the occult and falls under the spell of the mysterious Duncan Mylne, who has a secret agenda and Andrew is an essential part of his future plans. The writing is very descriptive and as with all classic horror relies on the imagination of the reader to bring the story to life in his mind...."And yet, for all the neglect, the building had lost none of it's power. It had been designed to communicate a sense of religious awe, and that remained in the sheer scale with which it towered over the passer-by. But it possessed something else, something I had felt the first time I saw it in my dreams; a sense of brooding evil so overpowering that it took the breath away. There was a force in the very fabric of the building, a strength of purpose, as thought the stones themselves had been imbued with a malign and ancient consciousness. Even without setting foot inside, I could feel that same presence of fear and loathing and brutality..." The story evolves around a book known as "Matrix Aeternitatis" and the evil vision within, taking the reader on a journey from the island of Stornoway to the rain soaked streets of Edinburgh and the oppressive heat of North Africa. As we race towards an exciting conclusion Andrew Macleod must use all his cunning to outwit the evil that accompanies Duncan Mylne.
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on 13 July 2007
It is the story of someone who first becomes interested in the arcane and then gets drawn in deeper. It is very much like a Dennis Wheatley books.

It is set in Edinburgh and is one cold and creepy story indeed. It unsettled me so much I have not read it again. It is more like having an experience than reading a book.
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