I.S. Berry’s Debut Novel The Peacock and The Sparrow Triumphs at 2024 Edgar Awards

I.S. Berry Wins Edgar Award for The Peacock and the Sparrow

In a glitzy ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square, I.S. Berry, a former CIA officer turned author, clinched the prestigious 2024 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. The accolade was bestowed upon I.S. Berry's debut work, “The Peacock and The Sparrow,” heralding a new era in spy fiction.


I.S. Berry, a former CIA officer, brings a gritty realism to the spy genre, which traditionally oscillates between the intensely realistic, what some readers call literary, and the over the top dramatically adventurous.

I.S. Berry's book set during the Arab Spring delves into the life of a Bahrain based CIA operative entangled in political strife and a deep personal romance, marking a new caliber of storytelling in espionage fiction.

The Mystery Writers of America, which has hosted the Edgar Awards for 78 years, celebrates the finest in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television. “The Peacock and The Sparrow” not only captivated the judges but also resonated widely among readers and critics, balancing the fine line between stark realism and narrative allure. I.S. Berry is in good company previous winners of this award include Joseph Kanon for Los Alamos (1998) and the late Jason Matthews who picked up the gong for Red Sparrow in 2014.

Speaking exclusively to Spybrary's Shane Whaley, I.S. Berry reflected on the significance of the Edgar Award, stating, “I think every debut author has doubts about her abilities and doesn't quite know if she's a ‘real' writer. So getting an Edgar is like a green light, formal confirmation. The Edgar is awarded by committees of writers, so it's extremely meaningful to know you have the respect of your peers.”

We are a broad church at Spybrary, with readers like myself who prefer a more realistic espionage read and others who prefer more action-oriented books. So when the entire congregation raves about a book, then we know it’s a good ‘un. We are delighted that the Edgar judges felt the same way.

Shane Whaley – Spybrary.com

Spybrary's Shane Whaley lauds Berry's novel for its broad appeal, noting, “We are a broad church at Spybrary, with readers like myself who prefer more realistic espionage reads and others who prefer the more action-oriented books. So when the entire congregation raves about a book, then we know it’s a good ‘un. We are delighted that the Edgar Award judges felt the same way.”

You only have to read one paragraph to know that you are in the hands of an assured writer, one who knows spying and understands character and can immediately take you to a time and place you don’t know

Tim Shipman

Further testament to the exceptional quality of I.S. Berry's debut novel, Tim Shipman, chief political commentator of the Sunday Times and author of the Top 125 Spy Authors list, weighed in on Berry's Edgar win.

Tim Shipman



Shipman remarked, “It’s really hard for spy writers to win an Edgar, they tend to go to crime writers, so the fact that Ilana has won tells you a lot about her first book. You only have to read one paragraph to know that you are in the hands of an assured writer, one who knows spying and understands character and can immediately take you to a time and place you don’t know.”

“I’ve got to know Ilana a little bit since it first came out and I’ve been hugely impressed by the way she has got stuck in and tirelessly marketed her book and put it on the radar of spy fans around the world. For all these reasons, this is a very pleasing victory for one of our own.”

Such endorsements underscore the novel’s impact and its reception within a community known for its discerning taste in thriller books.

Reflecting on a Momentous Win

Berry described her initial reaction to the award as one of shock and overwhelming joy. “Flabbergasted and elated. Like, wow, it's real,” Berry recounted. She expressed immense gratitude towards her readers and peers, acknowledging the role they played in her journey: “It felt like the award was as much for them as for me.”

Berry also thanked the CIA and “all my fellow formers who've rallied around the notion of a realistic spy novel. Legendary spy novelists who've gone above and beyond to support me – David McCloskey, Joseph Kanon, Paul Vidich, to name a few. And, absolutely, Spybrary! From the beginning, Spybrary's support for Peacock has been amazing and made all the difference. The online Spybrary community embraces literary spy novels, and I've felt like Peacock found its home there.”

The Edgar Award, conferred by a panel of esteemed writers, adds a significant feather to Berry’s cap, affirming her prowess and potential in a crowded thriller field. Previous winners of the Best First Novel category include notable authors like Viet Thanh Nguyen for “The Sympathizer” in 2016, a profound narrative intertwining espionage and cultural identity, and Flynn Berry (no relation) for “Under the Harrow” in 2017, which explored psychological dimensions within the thriller genre.

Looking Forward

Berry's next book promises to further probe the depths of international espionage, featuring an American officer's kidnapping juxtaposed against a backdrop of CIA-Mossad collaboration. This novel, inspired by real events and classic espionage literature, aims to subvert traditional genre expectations, focusing on a strong female lead in a high-stakes international scenario.

“It's a reverse of The Little Drummer Girl (my favorite le Carré book) – in mine, the case officer is female and the terrorist source is male. One of the plot lines is inspired by the real life Danish Al Qaeda penetration, Morten Storm.

A Celebratory Evening

The author celebrated her win quietly back in Washington, D.C., with her family, reflecting on both the journey thus far and the path ahead. Her son’s laughter upon seeing the Edgar statue—a quirky symbol of literary achievement—echoed the light-hearted yet profound nature of the evening

The Spybrary Take

I.S. Berry's Edgar Award win serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring thriller authors. With each word penned, Berry invites us into a world of intrigue and uncertainty, where the line between reality and fiction blurs, and the human experience takes centre stage. As we eagerly await her next literary offering, let us reflect on the enduring legacy of a debut novel that has left an indelible mark on the genre.

Shane Whaley
Shane Whaley, host of the Spybrary Podcast

Listen to our spoiler-free conversation with I.S. Berry to learn more about her Egdar award-winning novel The Peacock and the Sparrow.

Spy Author Interview - I.S. Berry
Spy Author Interview – I.S. Berry The Peacock and the Sparrow

Ex-CIA Officer I.S. Berry Spy Thriller Marks a Stunning Literary Debut – The Peacock and The Sparrow

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