Prolific British author Dick Francis, a former jockey whose thrillers rode high in best-selling lists for decades, has died at the age of 89, his family said.
He passed away at his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman from old age , according to a statement released through his publicist.
His son, Felix, said on Sunday he was devastated as he paid tribute to his extraordinary father, who produced 42 novels.
Francis specialized in plots based on the horse racing industry, drawing on his own experiences of winning more than 350 races.
His books were translated into more than 20 languages, and in 2000 Queen Elizabeth II – whose mother was among his many readers – honored Francis by making him a Commander of the British Empire.
He turned to writing after hanging up his saddle in the 1950s and was still producing novels at the end of his life.
Even Money , which he co-authored with Felix, came out in September 2009 and Crossfire will be published in August this year.
Felix said: My brother, Merrick, and I are, of course, devastated by the loss of our father, but we rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man.
We share in the joy that he brought to so many over such a long life. It is an honor for me to be able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels.
During his writing career, Francis won three Edgar Allen Poe awards given by The Mystery Writers of America for his novels Forfeit (1968), Whip Hand (1979) and Come to Grief (1995).
He also was awarded a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association for his outstanding contribution to the genre. The association made him a Grand Master in 1996 for a lifetime s achievement.
Aside from novels, Francis also authored a volume of short stories, as well as a biography of British jockey Lester Piggot.
In recent years Francis wrote novels jointly with son Felix, including Silks (2008) and Even Money (2009). A new novel by the two, Crossfire, will be published later this year.
Richard Francis was born Oct. 31, 1920, as the younger son of a horse breeder in Tenby, South Wales. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 and was stationed in the Egyptian desert before being commissioned as a bomber pilot in 1943, flying Spitfires, Wellingtons and Lancasters.
A few years later he returned to his father s stables and became a steeplechase trainer s assistant. Later, as a professional jockey, he won 345 of the more than 2,300 races he rode in between 1948 and 1957, taking the title of Champion Jockey for the 1953-54 season.
Francis spoke in later life of how he was still haunted by his ride on Devon Loch, a horse owned by the Queen Mother which suddenly slipped when he appeared certain to win the 1956 Grand National.
He recalled in 2006: The Devon Loch episode was a terrible thing but I look back on it now and I can say that if it hadn t happened I might never have written a book, and my books have certainly helped keep the wolf from the door.
Despite his many successes, he had expressed regret at never winning the prestigious Grand National.
The first one I rode in I was second, and the last one I rode in I won everywhere except the last 25 yards. I would love the opportunity of having another go, but it s a young man s job, he said once during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
Francis first book, published in 1957 after retiring from racing, was his autobiography, titled The Sport of Queens. His first novel, Dead Cert, came out in 1962 and was followed by a new title every year since.
He also worked for years as a racing correspondent for Britain s Sunday Express, and retired in the British Caribbean territory of the Cayman Islands.
His wife, Mary, to whom he was married for 53 years, died in 2000. He had five grandchildren and one great grandson.
A small funeral is planned at his home in Grand Cayman, followed by a memorial service in London, his spokesman said.
Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited her mother s keen interest in racing and owning racehorses, will be saddened by the news of Francis death, Buckingham Palace said.
The racing fraternity also paid tribute. The former voice of racing on the BBC, Peter O Sullevan, said Francis was one of the people s champions .
He said: He was a very good mate. The last time he wrote to me was just before Christmas and he said he was very weak.
I particularly enjoyed reading his novels and found him a wonderfully efficient author.
Former champion jockey John Francome praised Francis as a lovely person with a wicked sense of humor .
I remember we used to laugh out loud about the old times and he did say to me that he would have happily given up all the success he achieved as an author to have won the (Grand) National on Devon Loch.
Francis also had a distinguished military career, initially stationed in the Egyptian desert for the Royal Air Force before he was commissioned as a pilot in 1943. -Agencies