The Onion – Derek Webb

This week Crime Cymru member Derek Webb gives us an excerpt from his future book ‘The Onion’.

The Onion’s journey from India to Wales

by Derek Webb

Auroville is an experimental township near Pondicherry in India which was founded in 1968 as a place where men and women of all countries, creeds, and politics would be able to realize human unity: to live in peace and harmony.  At the heart of Auroville is an amazing vast golden globe – the Matrimandir – inside which is a space of tranquillity, silence and concentration for people to “seek their own consciousness”.

When. I visited Auroville a couple of years ago, I was struck by the placid atmosphere of the place… and then the what ifs crept in… An alternative vision: a place which on the surface is benign and welcoming, but underneath is something rather more sinister. A place, sharing many of the characteristics of Auroville, but in many respects the opposite. Somewhere not in India, but in mid-Wales. 

Not far from Newtown, is a community called Trefinbew, which has at its centre a strange globe like building – The Onion.  Alice Nicholson, whose father joined the community a few months back but has since disappeared, turns for help to Daniel Shaw a journalist on the local newspaper. But as they begin to peel away the many layers of The Onion, increasingly dangerous elements are revealed. The original founders of Trefinbew it turns out were Eugenicists, and what is the dark secret at the heart of The Onion and the connection with the Victorian author Thackeray?  The following extract is from the early part of the book when Daniel and Alice begin to look for answers in her father’s abandoned cottage in Trefinbew….

Daniel sat on the sofa and opened the journal. Alice pushed the photo album aside, got off her knees and joined him.

‘It starts in January. When did your Dad come here to begin with?’

‘Last year sometime. When he first moved to Wales, he rented a house near Montgomery. That was early last year. He must have moved in around September I think; the first wave of Covid was easing anyway and the second wave hadn’t hit. He spent Christmas Day with me in Llanfyllin and he was certainly well settled into Trefinbew by then. He was full of it, despite the lockdown. Loving every minute. Or so it seemed.’

‘No, doesn’t seem quite so certain, judging by this, does he?’ said Daniel pointing to an entry for March 5, written in small scrawly ballpoint: “This’ll be a first, never kept a diary before, got to keep a record though. Ridiculous!! (underlined three times) spent a lifetime recording – and I’m reduced to this! Pen and paper! Some things about this place are beginning to worry me. Asked some pertinent questions today and only got obfuscation in return.”

‘But he seemed so happy to be here,’ reflected Alice. ‘At Christmas he told me how much he was enjoying life and how nice it was that for once he actually felt part of a community and not just part of a money-making machine.’

‘Is that how he described it, his work?’

‘Yes, it took me a bit by surprise I must say. He loved his work and was incredibly proud of what he’s achieved, getting accolades from the recording industry and that. He revelled in it. But there was obviously part of him that wanted another – a more, in his terms, fulfilling life.’

Her remark struck a chord with Daniel. ‘Well, we can’t argue with that, can we?’

‘No, but judging by this he didn’t actually find it here.’ Alice sighed.


‘Let’s go on.’

Daniel turned the journal’s pages. As he skimmed through, many of the entries that caught his eye were fairly banal, about the weather and how impressed he was by the quality of some of the craftwork being produced by the residents, he even talked about fancying having a go at woodturning himself. But intermingled with these notes there were odd sardonic comments, such as “Today’s encounter made me wonder if they could even organise a piss-up in a brewery. It’s really pitiful the way they carry on.”

‘Dad doesn’t suffer fools gladly.’

‘No, I can imagine.’

And then towards the end of March, the entries became more acerbic: “This has got beyond a joke. My questions go unanswered, or just ignored. They won’t tell me anything. And I’m supposed to be one of the Tanams.”

‘That’s a donor,’ explained Alice. ‘There are about 50 of them who have donated money to the community.’

‘Yes, I know, you said,’ replied Daniel, ‘so he was really quite important in his way.’


‘So all the more surprising that he felt this way about his… his peers, if that what they were.’

‘Surprising, definitely. At the very least.’

Then they came to another entry, for March 31, which read: “Meeting with The Great Thackeray tomorrow.”

‘What or who is the Great Thackeray?’

‘English novelist. Victorian.’

‘I know who that Thackeray was. But who is this one that Dad’s talking about?’

‘Search me. Could be a joke. The next day would have been April the first.’

‘This is serious.’


‘What’s he say about the meeting?’

Daniel turned the page, but there was no entry for April 1 or for several days after that. And then, on April 7 was a cryptic entry: “Promised Greater Understanding.”

And then nothing for a week. Finally, there was the entry for April 15: “As far as I’m concerned, The Great Thackeray can go f*** himself!”

Daniel and Alice looked at each other in astonishment.

Read more about Derek Webb on the Crime Cymru Website on this link

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