The Volunteer by former war reporter Jack Fairweather is the bookies' favourite to win the upcoming Costa Book of the Year award at odds of 2/1 with William Hill.
The book, which came top of Costa's biography category earlier this month, tells the story of Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance fighter who volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz where he forged an underground army, sabotaged facilities, assassinated Nazi officers, gathered evidence of the mass murder of Jews and spread news of the Holocaust to the Allies.
It competes for the ultimate prize with Middle England, which is Jonathan Coe's 13th novel, and three débuts, one of which is Jasbinder Bilan's Asha & the Spirit Bird, the winner of this year’s Costa Children’s Book Award and second most likely to win in William Hill's estimation at odds of 3/1.
"When we opened the betting Asha & The Spirit Bird was our favourite," said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams, "but we have seen money for The Volunteer and it looks a very worthy favourite."
Were Fairweather to win, it would be the second consecutive year the accolade went to a biography focused in and around the Second World War, after 2018's Costa Book of the Year was won by The Cut Out Girl, Bart van Es' investigation of the story of a young Jewish girl fostered by the writer’s own grandparents in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation.
Third most likely to win, jointly, is Coe's Costa Novel Award-winning state-of-the-nation novel Middle England, set against a background of real events in the UK before and after the Brexit referendum, and Costa First Novel Award-winner The Confessions of Frannie Langton by former lawyer-turned-author Sara Collins, telling the story of a Jamaican maid on trial for the murder of her employers in 1826 London.
Mary Jean Chan's début poetry collection Flèche currently has odds of 6/1. At 29, Chan is the youngest-ever winner of the Costa Poetry Award.
Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 12 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a collection of poetry, seven times by a biography and only twice by a children’s book.
The deciding panel of judges is chaired by broadcast journalist and author Sian Williams along with: novelist John Boyne; poet, songwriter and critic Jade Cuttle; historian, broadcaster and author Professor Suzannah Lipscomb; author Clare Mackintosh; comedian, author and actor Ben Miller; actor Hugh Quarshie; writer Bali Rai; and broadcaster Anneka Rice.
The winner is due to be announced on Tuesday 28th January.