Ex-CIA Officer’s Spy Thriller Marks a Stunning Literary Debut – The Peacock and The Sparrow

The Peacock and The Sparrow author I.S.Berry
Debut author and former CIA officer I.S.Berry chats espionage thriller writing and research for her book The Peacock and the Sparrow.

Welcome to Spybrary, the podcast for spy book enthusiasts! In today's episode, we are diving into the world of espionage books with an interview featuring a remarkable debut novelist, ex-CIA officer I.S. Berry. Her book, “The Peacock and the Sparrow,” has been causing quite a stir in the Spybrary community. Without a doubt, The Peacock and the Sparrow is the best spy novel published in 2023 that I have read.

If you enjoy Graham Greene and/or David McCloskey's Damascus Station, then you are going to love The Peacock and The Sparrow.

Shane Whaley – Spybrary Host

Espionage was a game and if a spook wasn’t playing, he was either irrelevant or dead.

I.S.Berry – The Peacock and The Sparrow

I.S. Berry, a former CIA officer, brings a unique perspective to the genre. In this gritty and realistic spy thriller set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, Berry explores the complexities of a CIA spy stationed in Bahrain. The story delves into his involvement in the conflict and a passionate romance with an artist.

Intelligence officers are even worse than soldiers; at least soldiers have the courage to pull the trigger. 

I.S.Berry – The Peacock and The Sparrow

About The Peacock and The Sparrow

During the Arab Spring, an American spy’s final mission goes dangerously awry in this explosive and “remarkable debut” (Joseph Kanon, New York Times bestselling author) from a former CIA officer that is perfect for fans of John LeCarre, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Alan Furst.

The Peacock and The Sparrow
The Peacock and The Sparrow by I.S.Berry

Shane Collins, a world-weary CIA spy, is ready to come in from the cold. Stationed in Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia for his final tour, he’s anxious to dispense with his mission—uncovering Iranian support for the insurgency against the monarchy. But then he meets Almaisa, a beautiful and enigmatic artist, and his eyes are opened to a side of Bahrain most expats never experience, to questions he never thought to ask.

When his trusted informant becomes embroiled in a murder, Collins finds himself drawn deep into the conflict and his growing romance with Almaisa upended. In an instant, he’s caught in the crosshairs of a revolution. Drawing on all his skills as a spymaster, he must navigate a bloody uprising, win Almaisa’s love, and uncover the murky border where Bahrain’s secrets end and America’s begin.

“A breathless tour-de-force, the perfect spy tale” (Ian Caldwell, author of The Fifth Gospel) and dripping with authenticity, The Peacock and the Sparrow is a timely story of the elusiveness of truth, the power of love and belief, and the universal desire to be part of a cause greater than oneself.

Drawing from her own experiences, Berry captivates readers with her authenticity and attention to detail. Her book has garnered comparisons to master spy novelist Graham Greene. We are excited to chat with I.S. Berry about her inspiration and the journey that led her to pen this stunning literary debut.


Spies are nothing if not divining rods tuned to instantaneously detect anything shiny and valuable, and I absorbed the lay of the land, sensing how many potential contacts I could check off the list and later cram into a cable before I could go home.

I.S.Berry – The Peacock and The Sparrow

I.S.Berry also reveals that there are a group of budding writers at the CIA who go by the name….invisible ink! Love that!

best spy writers ranked
The best spy writers ranked by the Sunday Times' Tim Shipman, grab your copy here.

Also, if you're a fan of spy literature, you won't want to miss our discussion with renowned spy author and journalist Tim Shipman. He has curated a list of his best spy authors, all 125 of them, which include both classic and modern spy writers. Tim has even recommended which book to try first from each author, as well as sharing his own personal favorite.

So, grab your trench coat and a martini as we embark on this intriguing journey together. Let's get started!

Here are some of the Spybrary listener questions that we asked the author of The Peacock and The Sparrow I.S.Berry

Bruce Dravis

Thanks so much to Spybrary for pointing this one out–deceptively captivating, and by the time I got to the end I was thinking, “What did I just read?” An unlikeable narrator, whose professional and personal lives are in a shambles, and slides downhill. The author deftly held back her cards from the reader and by the time I realized what was happening I had to speed to the end. Left me thinking of Alec Leamas.

Matthew Bradford – Double O section blog

This is a really great book that successfully follows in the footsteps of Greene and le Carré, but should also please fans of Jason Matthews and David McCloskey. There is action, there is betrayal, and there are the worst of human impulses laid bare… all beautifully described. I.S. Berry is a welcome new voice in the genre, and should find a lot of fans in this group!

I'm curious about your relationship with THE QUIET AMERICAN. Had you read it already before you went to Bahrain and did Bahrain make you think of it, or did you read it while there? Did Greene's book inspire you to write yours, or did you find the parallels with it as you were writing THE PEACOCK AND THE SPARROW? 

You evoke your settings as vividly as Greene does! Did you travel to all of them in your previous life (if you can say)? If so, did you make notes for a potential novel while you were there, or did you write about them from memory after the fact? Did you return to any of these places while you were writing the book?

Which came to you first: your plot, or your characters? Shane Collins is so well realized! Did you always intend to write him in the first person, or did that come during the process? Was writing a male character in the first person something you deliberately set out to do?  

Collins peels back layer upon layer at just the right pace throughout the book, making us like him before telling us something to make us despise him, etc, so that we're always engaged with him. Did you know in advance exactly how much of what was actually happening you would allow Collins to reveal to the readers at each point in the book, or did you roll back things that he'd revealed on a rewrite to save more surprises for later on? 

JASON KING One of the many things I loved about this was the way I.S captures the ex-pat life.

At the beginning of chapter 6 her hero, Shane Collins, comments :‘The gala marked my three-month anniversary in Bahrain. Three months. A turning point, as any expat knows. The entrance to a long dark tunnel. The point were any extant novelty or exoticism has worn off. Where you sink deeper into foreign soil but it repulses and rejects you, shuns your alien roots. Where you become trapped in the amber of the transplanted elite. Imprisoned in a no man’s land.’

Discussed in the episode:

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