Donald Serrell Thomas

Donald Serrell Thomas (18 July 1934 – 20 January 2022) was a British crime writer. His work primarily included 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 wrote a number of biographies, two volumes of poetry, and also edited volumes of poetry by John Dryden and the Pre-Raphaelites.


Donald Thomas was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset on 18 July 1934.[1] He was educated at Queen's College, Taunton, before completing his National Service in the Royal Air Force (1953–1955) and then going up to Balliol College, Oxford (1955–1958).[2] He currently holds a personal chair as Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Cardiff University.[3][4]

Early worksEdit

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 and factEdit

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]

Later life and deathEdit

Having retired from Cardiff University, he remained 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]

Some of his last works included a study on censorship in modern Britain, reviewed as "provocative, timely and disturbing" by Iain Finlayson in The Times. [12]

Thomas died on 20 January 2022, at the age of 87.[13]

Awards and nominationsEdit

As a poet, Thomas won the Eric Gregory Award in 1962 for his collection Points of Contact.[14] 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.[14][10]

Partial bibliographyEdit

As Francis SelwynEdit


Sgt. VerityEdit
  • Sergeant Verity and the Imperial Diamond (André Deutsch 1975) ISBN 0-233-96704-4
  • Sergeant Verity and the Cracksman (André Deutsch 1974) ISBN 0-233-96599-8
  • Sergeant Verity Presents His Compliments (André Deutsch 1977) ISBN 0-233-96806-7
    • (Stein and Day 1977)
  • Sergeant Verity and the Blood Royal (André Deutsch 1979) ISBN 0-233-97074-6
  • Sergeant Verity and the Swell Mob (André Deutsch 1980) ISBN 0-233-97217-X
  • The Hangman's Child (Robert Hale 2000) ISBN 0-7090-6683-X


As Donald (Serrell) ThomasEdit


  • 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 SwainEdit
Sonny TarrantEdit
Sherlock HolmesEdit
  • 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 (UK edition of Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt, see below)
    • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt (Carroll & Graf 2002) ISBN 0-7867-0973-1 (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 (Pegasus 2009) ISBN 1-60598-043-9
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Ghosts of Bly (Pegasus 2010) ISBN 1-60598-134-6
  • The Lost Casebooks of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus 2012) ISBN 978-1-60598-352-3
    • (Omnibus of The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt, & The Execution of Sherlock Holmes)
  • Death on a Pale Horse: Sherlock Holmes on Her Majesty's Secret Service (Pegasus, March 2013) ISBN 1-60598-394-2

Non-fiction & referenceEdit

As editorEdit
As translatorEdit


  1. ^ The Balliol College Register. Fifth edition, 1930-1980. Edited by John Jones and Sally Viney (1983), p. 294.
  2. ^ The Balliol College Register. Fifth edition, 1930–1980. Edited by John Jones and Sally Viney (1983), p. 294.
  3. ^ a b Donald Thomas at A.M. Heath Archived 4 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 9 February 2008
  4. ^ Academic Staff, Cardiff School of English, Communication, and Philosophy. Accessed 9 February 2008 Archived 7 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ WorldCat on State Trials. Accessed 10 February 2008
  6. ^ Lewis Carroll at Representative Poetry Online Archived 18 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 9 February 2008
  7. ^ Donald Thomas Bibliography. Accessed 9 February 2008
  8. ^ Francis Selwyn at Crime Thru Time. Accessed 9 February 2008 Archived 11 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Bill Hamilton of A.M. Heath Archived 17 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 9 February 2008
  10. ^ a b News Centre: "War-time crime on the home front" Review of An Underworld at War[permanent dead link]. Accessed 9 February 2008
  11. ^ News Centre: "Villain's Paradise" review[permanent dead link]. Accessed 9 February 2008
  12. ^ Iain Finlayson (25 August 2007). "Freedom's Frontier: Censorship in Modern Britain". The Times. London. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  13. ^ "Professor Donald Thomas, prolific biographer, scholar of true crime and author of mystery novels – obituary". The Telegraph. 10 March 2022. Retrieved 11 March 2022.
  14. ^ a b Donald Thomas at Fantastic Fiction. Accessed 9 February 2008

External linksEdit