Donald Serrell Thomas
(b. 1926 or 1935) is an English
author of (primarily) Victorian-era historical
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.
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.
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.
As Francis Selwyn
- 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
- 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
- The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes (Macmillan 1997) ISBN 0330369776
- Sherlock Holmes and the Running Noose (Macmillan 2001) ISBN 0333905229
- Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt (Carroll & Graf Publishers 2002) ISBN 0786709731
- The Execution of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus 2007) ISBN 1933648228
Non-Fiction & reference
- A Long Time Burning: The History of Literary Censorship in England (Praeger 1969)
- State Trials, Vol. 1:Treason and libel, with Thomas Bayly Howell (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1972) ISBN 0710073259
- State Trials, Vol 2:The Public Conscience, with Thomas Bayly Howell (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1972) ISBN 0710073267
- Charge! hurrah! hurrah!: A Life of Cardigan of Balaclava (Viking Press 1975) ISBN 0670203882
- Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf (1975)
- The Marquis de Sade: A New Biography (New York Graphic Society 1976) ISBN 0821206532
- Swinburne, the Poet in his World (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1979; OUP 1979) ISBN 0297776053 ; ISBN 0195201361
- (Allison & Busby 1999) ISBN 0749004096
- (Häftad. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1999) ISBN 1566632293
- Robert Browning: A life within life (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1982, 1989) ISBN 0297780921 ; ISBN 0297796399
- Henry Fielding (1988) (St. Martin's Press 1991) ISBN 0312054432
- Dead Giveaway: Murderers Avenged from the Grave (M. O'Mara Bks. 1993) ISBN 1854799304
- Hanged in Error? (Robert Hale 1994) ISBN 0709053576
- Lewis Carroll: A Portrait With Background (John Murray 1996) ISBN 0719553237
- The Victorian Underworld, with Henry Mayhew (New York University Press 1998) ISBN 0-8147-8238-8
- An underworld at war : spivs, deserters, racketeers & civilians in the Second World War (John Murray, 2003) ISBN 0719563402
- Villains' Paradise: A History of Britain's Post-War Underworld: From the spivs to the Krays (John Murray 2006) ISBN 0719563445
- (Pegasus 2006) ISBN 1933648171
- Fredom's Frontier: Censorship in Modern Britain (John Murray 2007) ISBN 071955733X
*Naval Battles of Crete (Andre Deutsch)