Jennifer Egan, Benjamin Myers and Paul Lynch are among the authors shortlisted for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The prize, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, was founded by patrons the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch to honour the legacy and achievements of Sir Walter Scott, "inventor" of the historical novel.
Egan was shortlisted for Manhattan Beach (Corsair), which, according to the judges, is a "novel from a writer at the top of her form". They said: "Jennifer Egan handles her glittering cast of characters with subtlety and ease, leading them with confidence into the dark underbelly of wartime New York. Her feeling for time and place is pitch-perfect, and Egan demonstrates that she is solidly established in the first rank of contemporary authors.”
Meanwhile, Myers was chosen for The Gallows Pole (Bluemoose Books), which the judges hailed as "an important book".
“Imagine the wild moors of Calderdale in Yorkshire in the 18th century where stealing a loaf of bread could result in hanging", they said. "The only profit to be made was in the manufacture of fake money from melted down clippings of fake coins. Under the ‘protection’ of King David Hartley, the tough folk of that harsh valley had at least some hope of sustenance. As Hartley said, ‘we live as clans ….protection was our purpose especially from any incomers’. But historical progress was one incomer that could not be halted. The writing is brutal but lyrical and deeply affecting.”
Lynch is on the list for Grace (Oneworld), a work of "great lyricism".The judges said: "Its beautiful prose is put to devastating effect in his vivid story of the Irish potato famine which killed at least a million people. From the opening page we travel with fourteen year old Grace as she is sent out from Donegal, seemingly banished by her mother, but actually in a desperate attempt to save her life. It haunted the judges long after the final line."
Also shortlisted is Sugar Money by Jane Harris (Faber), a "thrilling adventure story with a warm, human heart" set in the world of slavery in 18th century Martinique and Grenada and The Wardrobe Mistress (Hutchinson) by Patrick McGrath, which the judges said was "above all, a novel of voices... McGrath slyly plays with his reader in a novel which, whilst superbly evoking post-war theatrical life, pulses with contemporary disquiet.”
Rounding out the shortlist is Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik (Fig Tree), which the judges described as "a quietly beautiful and brilliant novel that captures the heart and essence of a love story in the years during and after the Second World War".
"It has been a real treat to explore quite dazzlingly different periods in history, and to discover new talent in first-time authors," the judges said. "This year's shortlist encompasses the rural and the urban, the exotic and the everyday, the epic and the intimate. The narrative drive in each of our shortlisted books is compelling, and on the pages are universal truths with which we can identify."
The eight-strong judging panel comprises Alistair Moffat (chair), Elizabeth Buccleuch, Kate Figes, Katharine Grant, James Holloway, Elizabeth Laird, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark.
The winner receives £25,000 and shortlisted authors each receive £1,000, with shortlisted authors also invited to attend the award ceremony and prize events at the Borders Book Festival on 16th June.