Levy, 49, was born in London to Jamaican parents and has published three novels.
Last year's winner was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
The Whitbreads, established in 1971 and open only to residents of Britain and Ireland, are given in five categories - novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children's book. Each winning author receives $9,500. Then one of the five is selected as book of the year and the author wins a grand prize of $58,000.
That announcement will be made Jan. 25.
The other finalists are: first novel, Susan Fletcher's Eve Green; biography: John Guy's My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots; children's story, Geraldine McCaughrean's Not the End of the World; poetry, Michael Symmons Robert's volume Corpus.
This year's judging panel includes actor Hugh Grant and writers Jenny Colgan, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Lavinia Greenlaw and Joanne Harris.
Ya gotta have gall
* The road to success isn't always paved with talent.
Here's American Idol reject William Hung, the 21-year-old Hong Kong native who was panned for singing off key, now enjoying a starring role in a film and spouting off in interviews as if he can dictate his terms.
In Singapore to promote his first film, an action-comedy in Cantonese, Where is Mama's Boy?, Hung told the Straits Times newspaper he wants to play only good guys in his fledgling acting career.
"I would like to preserve a good image and not play the bad guy or do anything that's obscene," Hung told the paper.
In the movie, Hung plays a street vendor who befriends a music club owner played by Hong Kong starlet Nancy Sit.
Musician is MIA
* Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson is asking for help in finding a Swedish cellist swept away in the South Asian tsunami.
Markus Sandlund, 29, of the Stockholm Strings and Horns, performed on Wilson's Grammy-nominated Smile album and Wilson's recent Smile tour. Sandlund and his girlfriend, Sophia, went to Thailand after finishing the Smile tour in Australia and New Zealand.
The couple, vacationing at the Orchid Beach Resort at Khao Lak, were in the hotel pool when the enormous wave hit. Sophia was swept away and later rescued, but Sandlund has not been found.
"I have been devastated since I heard the news that Markus is missing in Thailand," said Wilson, 62. The singer-songwriter said he had dispatched an "agent" to try to find Sandlund.
Celeb tsunami aid
* Actress Jane Kaczmarek is calling on her fellow celebs to donate the star-studded clothes off their backs for an auction to raise money for victims of the tsunami disaster.
Kaczmarek, who plays Frankie Muniz's mom on television's Malcolm in the Middle, and her husband, The West Wing actor Bradley Whitford, are sponsoring a "Clothes Off Our Back" auction beginning Jan. 17 - the day after the Golden Globes are awarded. They hope much of the finery seen on the red carpet that night will make its way into the auction.
Clothes Off Our Back is a charity that Kaczmarek and Whitford started in 2002.
* Director Steven Spielberg announced a cash pledge of $1.5 million to the post-tsunami relief effort - to be split between Care, Save the Children, and Oxfam.
Though known to be generous, Spielberg usually keeps his charity donations a secret. He wanted this contribution to be announced in a bid to persuade others to donate, his publicist says.
Most don't need prompting.
Actress Sandra Bullock revealed earlier this week that she was giving $1 million; Sting is organizing a benefit concert for Feb. 10 in Australia; and George Clooney is lining up stars for NBC's tsunami-aid telethon scheduled for Jan. 15. That show is expected to feature Sarah Jessica Parker, Clay Aiken, Debra Messing, Christina Aguilera, Sheryl Crow, and Tim McGraw.
Meanwhile, a country-themed benefit set for Sunday in Austin has Willie Nelson headlining. The Laugh Factory comedy clubs in New York and Los Angeles are set to host fund-raising events on Jan. 19, featuring comics Brad Garrett, Jon Lovitz, Paul Rodriguez and Bob Saget.
Soccer star David Beckham pledged to visit southern Asia in a bid to boost the tourism industry. Beckham is a superstar in Asia and also serves as an ambassador for UNICEF.
And today, all seven of the Viacom/Infinity sister stations in the Philadelphia area - KYW-TV (Channel 3), WPSG-TV (Channel 57), KYW-AM (1060), WOGL-FM (98.1), WYSP-FM (94.1), WIP-AM (610), and WPHT-AM (1210) - are broadcasting live from studios at Fifth and Market Streets, to raise funds for the youngest victims of the disaster. The team effort, dubbed "Operation Brotherly Love," will benefit UNICEF.
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Inquirer wire services contributed to this column.