Donald Thomas

Donald Thomas

Donald Serrell Thomas (born 1926[1][2]) is an English author of (primarily) Victorian-era historical, crime and detective fiction, as well as books on factual crime and criminals, in particular several academic books on the history of crime in London. He has written a number of biographies, two volumes of poetry, and has also edited volumes of poetry by John Dryden and the Pre-Raphaelites.



Due to a relative lack of information, it is conceivable though unlikely that two "Donald Thomas"es are here conflated into one individual. It is more likely that the alternate (1935) birthdate refers instead to this Thomas.

Donald Thomas was born in Somerset, and educated at Queen's College, Taunton and Balliol College, Oxford. He currently holds a personal chair as Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Cardiff University.[3][4]

Early works

Thomas's earliest works seem to have been in the area of legal and historical fact, notably revised texts of Thomas Bayly Howell's collection of state trials, originally collected at the behest of William Cobbett and published between 1809 and 1826.[5] Among his earliest forays into the world of fiction was Sergeant Verity and the Cracksman, 1974, published under the pseudonym Francis Selwyn. By the early 1980s, however, he had largely shed the Selwyn pseudonym (returning to it briefly in the late 1980s for some non-fiction works, and once in 2000, for another "Verity" novel), and began writing under his own name, Donald (S.) Thomas, switching from academic study and biography to Sherlockiana and crime fiction, all underpinned with his deep knowledge of the times and cultures of which he writes.[citation needed]

Biographies & fact

He has written a number of books, mostly novels, on a variety of subjects predominantly set in Victorian England. He has also written a small number of non-fiction works dealing with similar subjects/settings, among them a study of the Victorian underworld, and biographies of Robert Browning, the Marquis de Sade, Henry Fielding, and Lewis Carroll.

His 1978 (rev. ed. 2001) biography of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald highlights the characteristics of that individual which served in large part as inspiration both for C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, and for Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey. In 1994, his Hanged in Error? provided an overview/investigation as to the likely guilt of seven individuals all hanged in the UK before its abolition as a means of capital punishment in 1965. The book dealt with the cases of Timothy Evans, John Williams (alias George MacKay, hanged in 1913 for the fatal shooting of Inspector Arthur Walls in Eastbourne during a burglary attempt), Edith Thompson, Robert Hoolhouse, Neville Heath, Charles Jenkins (hanged in 1947 together with Christopher Geraghty for fatally shooting Alec de Antiquis following a botched London jewel robbery), and James Hanratty. (N.B. This is not the same as the similarly titled 1961 book Hanged in Error by Leslie Hale, which contains a different set of case histories.)

In academic circles, he is especially well known for his studies of the criminal underworld of London from Victorian times, through World War II to the Kray twins. He has written seven biographies and a handful of other biographical studies, as well as fictionalised biographies of individuals such as Bonnie Prince Charlie. His biography of Lewis Carroll is recommended by Representative Poetry Online, and his other biographical works can be found on many academic reading lists.[6]

He has edited volumes of Everyman's Library on poets ranging from John Dryden to the Post-Romantics, and also offered a translation of Michel Millot and Jean L'Ange's bawdy 17th century novel L'École des filles, which is described as "both an uninhibited manual of sexual technique and an erotic masterpiece of the first order" on its back cover.


In fiction terms, he is perhaps best known for his more recent works, in particular a series of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, beginning with 1997's The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes. He has also written a number of other titles, and three series featuring the main characters of:

Alfred Swain, an inspector of Scotland Yard.
Sonny Tarrant, a "gangland capo",[7] and
Sgt. William Clarence Verity, a "Sergeant in Scotland Yard's 'Private Clothes Detail'" who investigates the Victorian criminal underground of London, c.1850.[8]

(Verity was created under the pseudonym Francis Selwyn.) His other novels include The Raising of Lizzie Meek, "based on the scandals surrounding the Victorian miracle-worker Father Ignatius of Capel-y-ffin".[3] Thomas is represented by Bill Hamilton of A.M. Heath & Company, Ltd.[9]

Recent history

Having retired from Cardiff University, he remains affiliated there, as an Associate Research Professor in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.[10] In 2005, as Personal Chair in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University, he "donated a selection of his personal archive of research papers, used in writing his series of acclaimed books on the Underworld in Victorian and World War II eras to the University [of Cardiff]'s Special Collections and Archives."[11]

His most recent works include a study on censorship in modern Britain, reviewed as "provocative, timely and disturbing", by Iain Finlayson in The Times. [12]

Awards and nominations

As a poet, Thomas won the Eric Gregory Award in 1962 for his collection Points of Contact.[1] His biography of Robert Browning A Life Within Life was a runner-up for the Whitbread Prize, and his Victorian Underworld was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger Award.[1][10]

Partial bibliography

As Francis Selwyn


Sgt. Verity


As Donald (Serrell) Thomas


  • Points of Contact: a collection of poems, 1958-1961 65pp. (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1963)
  • Welcome to the Grand Hotel 68pp. (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1975, 2006) ISBN 0-7100-8104-9


Alfred Swain
Sonny Tarrant
Sherlock Holmes
  • The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes (Macmillan 1997) ISBN 0-330-36977-6
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Running Noose (Macmillan 2001) ISBN 0-333-90522-9
    • (Pan Books 2002) ISBN 0-330-48647-0 (the UK edition of Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt, see below)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt (Carroll & Graf Publishers 2002) ISBN 0-7867-0973-1 (the US edition of Sherlock Holmes and the Running Noose, see above)
  • The Execution of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus 2007) ISBN 1-933648-22-8
  • Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil (2010)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Ghosts of Bly (2010)

Non-fiction & reference

*Naval Battles of Crete (André Deutsch)

As editor
As translator


  1. ^ a b c Donald Thomas at Fantastic Fiction. Accessed February 9, 2008
  2. ^ Donald Thomas at xs4all. Accessed February 9, 2008
  3. ^ a b Donald Thomas at A.M. Heath. Accessed February 9, 2008
  4. ^ Academic Staff, Cardiff School of English, Communication, and Philosophy. Accessed February 9, 2008 Archived September 7, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ WorldCat on State Trials. Accessed February 10, 2008
  6. ^ Lewis Carroll at Representative Poetry Online. Accessed February 9, 2008
  7. ^ Donald Thomas Bibliography. Accessed February 9, 2008
  8. ^ Francis Selwyn at Crime Thru Time. Accessed February 9, 2008 Archived December 11, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Bill Hamilton of A.M. Heath. Accessed February 9, 2008
  10. ^ a b News Centre: "War-time crime on the home front" Review of An Underworld at War. Accessed February 9, 2008
  11. ^ News Centre: "Villain's Paradise" review. Accessed February 9, 2008
  12. ^ Iain Finlayson (25 August 2007). "Freedom's Frontier: Censorship in Modern Britain". The Times (London). Retrieved 2008-02-09. 

External links

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