- James Herbert died peacefully at home, his publisher says
- More than 54 million copies of his 23 novels were sold worldwide
- "His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction," says editor
- In his debut, "The Rats," a plague of mutant, flesh-eating rodents invaded London
Nearly four decades after he brought an invasion of mutant, flesh-eating rodents to London with his first novel, "The Rats," UK chiller writer James Herbert has died aged 69.
Herbert, who followed up his best-selling debut with another hit, "The Fog," and another 21 books over the decades, was seen as a British rival to U.S. horror supremo Stephen King.
Other top sellers include "Portent," "Others" and "The Secret of Crickley Hall." His most recent novel, the paranormal detective story "Ash," was published last year.
Publisher Pan Macmillan said that he died peacefully at home Wednesday morning.
Jeremy Trevathan, Herbert's editor at Macmillan for 10 years, described him as a "keystone author in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s."
He was published in 34 languages, including Russian and Chinese, and has sold more than 54 million copies worldwide, according to Pan Macmillan.
"It's a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death," said Trevathan.
"He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime. His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th century."
Fans of his books paid tribute to the indelible mark they left on the readers' psyche.
"Sad news about James Herbert -- as a teen, I scared myself silly reading him. He led me to King, Barker, others. RIP ... " said crime writer Ian Rankin on Twitter.
Broadcaster Jenni Falconer tweeted: "Sad news about James Herbert. His book series 'The Rats' has kept me on high alert whenever I'm on the tube!! (I read it 20 yrs ago!)"
Born in the East End of London, the son of street traders, Herbert grew up in Whitechapel -- where Jack the Ripper once stalked his victims -- in an area badly hit by Second World War bombing raids.
The rodents he saw scurrying around the ruined buildings were to inspire his first work, according to a fan website.
The manuscript for "The Rats," published in 1974 at 175 pages in length, was written in just 10 months while Herbert was working at an advertising agency.
He had found a job there after studying graphic design, print and photography at Hornsey College of Art, and eventually rose to a senior role.
Four of his novels were made into films, while another was serialized for television and a fifth was dramatized for radio.
Herbert was presented with an honor, the Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.
In the same year, he was made the Grand Master of Horror by the World of Horror Convention.
He lived in Sussex, in southern England, with his wife of more than 40 years, Eileen, with whom he had three daughters.