Ross Elmore Thomas was born on February 19, 1926 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to J. Edwin Thomas and Laura (née Dean) Thomas. He began his education as a thriller writer while a reporter on the Daily Oklahoman in his hometown before serving as a U.S. Army infantryman in the Philippines during World War II. After he graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1949, he directed public relations for the National Farmers Union and later for the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Thomas managed election campaigns in the United States for two union presidents, for a Republican Senate nominee and for a Democratic governor of Colorado. Interestingly, he also advised an African leader who was running for the post of prime minister in Nigeria, though without success.
Thomas covered Bonn, Germany, for the Armed Forces Network in the late 1950’s, and served as a consultant/political mastermind to the United States government from 1964 to 1966 before publishing his first thriller, The Cold War Swap (1966), a book that won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1967. In 1974, he married Rosalie Appleton. He always cast a cynical eye on institutions and society at home and abroad, dissecting both with the wit of a morgue attendant and a wiretapper’s ear for dialogue. Briarpatch (1984) won Thomas another Edgar Award in 1985, and Chinaman’s Chance (1978) was selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of the One Hundred Favorite Mysteries of the Century. Thomas served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America. Thomas died in 1995 in Santa Monica, California.