Donald Thomas

Donald Serrell Thomas (b. 1926 or 1935) 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 tomes on the history of crime in London. He has written a number of biographies, a couple of volumes of poetry, and has also edited volumes of poetry from 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.

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. Among his earliest forays into the world of fiction was 1974's Sergeant Verity and the Cracksman, written 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.

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 titles 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 Lord Thomas Cochrane 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 it's ban as a means of capital punishment in 1965. The book dealt with the cases of Timothy Evans, John Williams, Edith Thompson, Robert Hoolhouse, Neville Heath, Charles Jenkins and James Hanratty. (It is possibly a revised edition of Leslie Hale's 1961 book of the same title.)

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 (to date). 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 Caroll is recommended by Representative Poetry Online, and his other biographical works can be found on many academic reading lists.

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, and
Sgt. William Clarence Verity, a "Sergeant in Scotland Yard's 'Private Clothes Detail'" who investigates the Victorian criminal underground of London, c1850.
(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". Thomas is represented by Bill Hamilton of A.M. Heath & Company, Ltd.

Recent history

Having retired from Cardiff University, he remains affiliated there, as an Associate Research Professor in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy. 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 WWII eras to the University [of Cardiff]'s Special Collections and Archives.

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

Awards and nominations

As a poet, Thomas won the Eric Gregory Award in 1962 for his collection Points of Contact. 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.

Partial bibliography

As Francis Selwyn


Sgt. Verity

  • Sergeant Verity and the Imperial Diamond (Andre Deutsch 1975) ISBN 0233967044
    • (Stein and Day 1976) ISBN 0812819179
  • Sergeant Verity and the Cracksman (Andre Deutsch 1974) ISBN 0233965998
    • (Futura 1975) ISBN 0860072525
    • Cracksman on Velvet (Stein and Day 1974) ISBN 081281729X
  • Sergeant Verity Presents His Compliments (Andre Deutsch 1977) ISBN 0233968067
    • (Stein and Day 1977)
  • Sergeant Verity and the Blood Royal (Andre Deutsch 1979) ISBN 0233970746
    • (Stein and Day 1979) ISBN 0812826086
  • Sergeant Verity and the Swell Mob (Andre Deutsch 1980) ISBN 023397217X
    • (Stein and Day 1981) ISBN 0812827279
  • The Hangman's Child (Robert Hale 2000) ISBN 070906683X


  • Villa Rosa (Blue Moon/Lyle Stuart 1989) ISBN 0821650386


As Donald (Serrell) Thomas



Alfred Swain

Sonny Tarrant

Sherlock Holmes


Non-Fiction & reference

*Naval Battles of Crete (Andre Deutsch)

As editor

As translator


External links

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