A leading bookmaker has suspended betting on the Booker prize six days before the judges meet to decide the winner.
Suspicions that a scam was in operation were raised when a flurry of bets were laid on Tom McCarthy for his book C. Ladbrokes decided to suspend betting early yesterday afternoon after what they described as "one of the biggest Booker Prize gambles in recent history".
In less than 24 hours, a total of £15,000 was laid on C in betting that started on Tuesday night and came to a halt when Ladbrokes refused any more stakes. The bookmaker took £23,000 on the entire Booker competition last year.
David Williams of Ladbrokes said: "We've seen so many bets on this one person it was time to have a breather."
It might have been different had the Booker shortlist contained a big name "like a Rushdie", he said, but none of the six shortlisted authors is particularly famous.
Over the summer, Tom McCarthy's novel was given odds of 7/1, but by the start of the week they had fallen to 2/1 and has plunged to 4/6 before betting was halted. The prize's organisers were puzzled by the betting, as the judges do not meet to choose the winner until next week.
"There's no way anybody knows what the result is because the judges don't meet until next Tuesday. There isn't anything to leak," said Ion Trewin, the award's literary director.
Rival bookmakers were content to let betting continue. Graham Sharpe of William Hill, which has C as 10/11 favourite, said: "You'd have to be a very good friend of all the judges to know which they will choose. I have no qualms about continuing to bet. If a couple of Booker judges came in with five grand to bet maybe I'd think again."