A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor: Featured Excerpt

Sarah Stewart Taylor is known for her atmospheric portrayal of an American detective in Ireland, and her critically acclaimed series returns with A Stolen Child. Start reading an excerpt here!


“Guards! Guard and American Guard! Guard and American Guard!”

My partner, Garda Jason Savage, and I are just finishing up our community patrol when we see two boys beckoning to us along the South Circular Road. Jason rolls his eyes at me. We’ve tried to get to know this little gang of kids who live and go to school in the neighborhood so that we’ll come to seem as familiar as the houses and shops they pass by every day. But they picked up on my accent right away and now when they address me, it’s always qualified by my nationality.

The younger one, a runty blond-haired kid named Luke, calls again, “Guards, guards! American Guard and Guard!”

“What is it, Luke?” Jason asks when the boys reach us. “Are you all right, so?”

Luke, all baggy school uniform and spindly limbs, looks up at us, his eyes wide. “Guards, you’ve got to come, Donald’s in the drain!”

Jason and I exchange a skeptical glance. Are they playing a prank? It wouldn’t be the first time the kids have tried to trick us. Our first week on the beat, they put a large doll in a baby stroller and rolled it along the sidewalk, yelling, “The baby! The baby!” and laughed when we raced to retrieve it.

But Luke seems genuinely upset, so we follow him to the end of Carlisle Street, almost running to keep up with him. Up ahead, I can see a crowd of kids clustered in front of a house that’s under construction. In a perfect little microcosm of the flavor of the neighborhood, the house next to it is already sleekly renovated, with a tasteful glossy charcoal front door and two planters filled with topiary.

The house on the other side has a peeling facade, a rampantly growing rose garden overtaking the iron fence, and row upon row of small animal figurines in the dusty windows. for sale signs are posted in front of a third of the houses in the neighborhood.

“Let’s see now,” Jason says soothingly as we get close. “What’s the trouble?”

The kids shuffle aside, and we step into the small front garden. It’s been completely dug up and there’s a pile of gravel and debris to one side. Luke points to a large, half-covered drain hole, from which we can hear loud and insistent quacking.

“Donald’s a duck?” I ask stupidly.

“Yeah, he’s going to starve down there. We’ve got to get him out,” Luke is saying, hopping around excitedly and getting in the way of us seeing anything. Most of the kids in the little gang are Luke’s age, ten or eleven, but there are three teenagers, two girls and a boy, watching from the sidewalk. Their younger counterparts seem to generally trust us, but I’ve seen these three around, and they exude waves of teenage resentment and skepticism about law enforcement.

One of the girls has dyed black hair in a severe bob-and-bangs cut, her school uniform too big on her thin frame, paired with black tights and heavy black shoes. Her friend has stringy dark blond hair worn long and straight, a smear of too-bright

pink lipstick on her mouth, and small eyes surrounded by dark eyeliner. The boy just looks furious with the world. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, his face troubled by acne, and he looks like he’d rather be doing anything than participating in the duck rescue mission.

“Now then,” Jason says. “Youse all step aside and I’ll see what the situation is here.” The kids move to the edge of the sidewalk as he looks down into the darkness. “Hello there, Donald. Have you gotten yourself into a fix?”

A loud battery of quacking comes from the drain.

“He’s got a wife down by the canal,” one of the kids says.  “I’d say he’s worried about whether she thinks he’s run off.” Jason and I exchange a glance and try not to smile.

“Can you get him out, guards?” Luke asks, his voice high and a little hysterical.

“Of course we can,” Jason tells him in a calm, soothing voice. “Now, I’ll just move the cover away. Garda D’arcy, will you help me?”

The two of us drag the heavy metal cover to the side. “He  must be pretty far down,” I say quietly. Jason takes the flashlight from his vest and shines it into the hole. There’s more  quacking and then,  out of the blackness, we see the head of a duck, his iridescent head- feathers set off by the flashlight. “I think I can reach him,” Jason tells me. “You’ll have to hold my feet.”

“No problem. I didn’t start lifting at the gym for nothing.”

I turn to the kids. “Does anyone have a jumper or a coat we can put on the ground so Garda Savage can lie down?”

“Tina,” Luke calls out. “Give us your jumper.” The blond girl tosses him her fleece jacket—now I can see a family resemblance between them, which explains the girl’s presence here—and he rushes over to lay it down.

Jason rolls up his shirtsleeves and gets down on his belly. Once I’ve got a good grip on his feet, he inches over the drain and I start lowering him down. The quacking becomes louder the lower he goes, and I can feel all the kids waiting behind me. Jason’s voice drifts back up to me. “Come on, Donald. I’m trying to  help you  here. The sooner you let me get you, the sooner you’ll be back to your wife in the canal.”

“Come on, Donald,” Luke blurts out. “Let him catch ya!”

“I’ve got you,” I call down to Jason. “If you need another few inches.”

“C’mere to me, Donald,” I hear him say. “C’mere, you.” I feel him swinging his arms around and then he yells out, “Got him!”

“Give me a hand,” I say to the kids, and they all help me pull Jason back up to the edge of the drain and onto the sidewalk. He’s tucked the duck under one arm and as soon as they’re back in the light, Donald starts quacking wildly again and trying to break free.

“You got ’im!” Luke shouts.

I help Jason  stand up.  “Now,  let’s  take him back to  his wife,” he says and gives an indignant Donald a pat  on his head. Making a noisy but triumphant procession, we all follow Jason along the little side streets and back down toward the canal as passersby stop to find the source of the commotion. Amid lots of quacking and flapping on Donald’s part, Jason stoops at the water’s edge to re- lease him. There’s already a small group of waterfowl there, three swans and a half dozen mallard ducks, and Donald gives a few final quacks and then goes to join them, propelling his feathery body smoothly beneath an overhanging willow tree, the wispy pale green branches reflected on the surface of the water.

“There, now, I think he was saying thanks a million,” Jason tells the kids. “He’ll be all right. Job well done.”

“Thanks, guard,” Luke says.

There are a few more Thanks, guards and then they all melt away, the teens, still looking bored, bringing up the rear.  The dark-haired  girl hangs back a bit to walk with the boy and I watch them go, a little thread of worry tugging at me. I’d guess they’re about fifteen, and I remember what a tough age that was for my own daughter, Lilly, and her friends. Jason and I have learned a bit about some of these kids’ home lives, and they’re not very stable. The neighborhood is gentrify- ing quickly and from what Jason’s said, it’s lost some of the community watchfulness that existed for children when he was growing up here; there are smoothie shops and fancy coffee  and million-euro-houses, but the neighborhood is full of danger for kids on their own in the afternoons.

As if to drive the point home, a familiar figure comes around the corner. I recognize him as a low-level drug dealer named Cameron Murphy whom Jason and I have interacted with before. He’s spent a few months here and there in jail for minor offenses, but he doesn’t have the air of a hardened criminal. He’s not much taller than I am, but he’s pumped up every muscle he’s got, and he keeps his hair lon- ger and gelled on top to give him an extra couple of inches. He has a Sylvester and Tweety Bird tattoo on his neck and when he turns his head, his skin wrinkles and Tweety takes on a demonic attitude. Cameron is sucking furiously at a cigarette, keeping his eyes down while still scanning the street for someone he’s either looking for or trying to avoid. He slows when he spots us along the canal bank, but he’s too smooth to stop or change direction. His body goes rigid, but he keeps coming, still surreptitiously checking for whoever it is in his sights.

“Hiya, Cameron,” I call out to him. “How are you today?”

“Ah, good, very good, now,” he says. “What’s the story yourselves, guards?”

Jason says, “Fine, thanks. Anything going on we should know about?”

“Ah, I wouldn’t say so, now. I’m just out for bit of a stroll meself.” He nods and walks past us, heading in the same direction as the kids, which makes me nervous. I’m seen him talking to Tina and her friend a few times, and I’m pretty sure nothing good is going to come of any friendship between them.

“Well now,” Jason says once Cameron’s gone, straightening his high visibility vest and patting his chest in a self-satisfied way. “That feels like a good day’s work. Though we’ll have to keep it quiet. The lads hear about this and we’ll never get out from under it. You’ll be Donald Duck D’arcy for the rest of your life. And I’ll be responding to fake calls for injured waterfowl until the day I retire. Yeah, I’d say best not to spread this one around.”

“My bill is sealed.” I gaze up at the blue sky and sunshine and the green dome of St. Mary Immaculate across the canal in Rathmines, hardly a cloud in sight. “I thought it was supposed to rain today.”

“Ah, sure, it’ll be coming later,” Jason says wisely, reaching up to scratch his forehead. “I’d say about four o’clock.” He’s only thirty, with thinning hair he’s started rearranging over his scalp in a way that makes him look older. Contemplating the upper atmosphere, patting the beginnings of a belly under his uniform, he could be an ancient country farmer, gauging his chances of getting the hay in today. Jason is a city boy, born and bred only a few streets from where we’re standing, but his first posting was as a guard in a small- ish town in County Offaly and he seems to have incorporated a ru-ral sensibility into his personality even though he’s back in Dublin. His blunt, kindly face inspires trust and he’s physically imposing enough to make people think twice before misbehaving.

“I wore my fleece because it was supposed to be cold and now I’m sweating,” I grumble.

Jason just nods and looks upward again as if things might have shifted in the last thirty seconds. They haven’t. The sky is still clear, reflected in the calm ribbon of water. I tug at the collar of my dress shirt and too-warm jacket.

My uniform still feels strange, too heavy, too conspicuous after so many years in plain clothes as a detective. I resigned from my job on Long Island a year and a half ago and then finished at the Garda Training College in Templemore in August. My friend Roly Byrne, a detective inspector with the Garda’s criminal investigation bureau, pulled some strings to get me posted to Dublin, where my boyfriend, Conor, and his son live and where my daughter, Lilly, is going to school. It feels like I’m right back where I started when I was twenty- five and a new officer with the Suffolk County Police Department, patrolling the streets, arresting drunks, driving by beaches and parking lots and high schools to make sure nobody was up to anything they shouldn’t be, spending enough time on the beat so when something really bad happened, people wouldn’t hesitate to let you know.

Jason’s and my scheduled community patrol has already brought us all the way down Clanbrassil Street to the Grand Canal. We’ll keep walking along the canal until we reach Portobello Bridge and then head north again up Richmond Street as it turns into Cam- den Street and then back to the newly finished Garda Station on Kevin Street. The skinnier-at-the-top rectangle—on the south side of the Liffey and not far from Dublin’s city center—that we’ll have described once we’re done is loosely our patrol area. For the past two months, since I finished the training I need to work as a Garda officer in Ireland and was paired up with Jason, it’s been our job to get to know it, to get to know the people, the businesses, the houses that are empty, the ones that are under construction, the ones that are occupied by families who have been in the Portobello neighbor- hood for generations, the ones that have sold to young couples flush with cash from the red-hot Dublin real estate market, and the ones where suspected drug dealers or gang members or pedophiles live. It’s taken time to figure it out, to understand how the roads and lanes and alleys all flow together, the networks of streets between the canal and the South Circular Road, once called Little Jerusa- lem because of the Jewish community that settled there in the early twentieth century, and the quiet residential neighborhoods above that that run parallel to Synge Street and up toward Camden Row. I’m just figuring out where the good coffee and lunch places are off Camden Street Lower, the hipster espresso places and health food cafés within easy walking distance of the increasing number of tech- related start-ups and creative industry offices in the neighborhood. Our patch is gentrifying quickly, though there’s still plenty of street crime, robberies and drug dealers bleeding east from Rialto and Dolphin’s Barn, and many of the kids we come across in the course of our work live in one of two older social housing complexes at the northern end of our beat.

I worried about how Jason would adjust to being partnered with a middle-aged American woman with twenty years of police work already under her belt, but he seems to take it all with a relaxed acceptance that will stand him in good stead his whole career. He doesn’t have the kind of edgy, multilayered intelligence that gets you into the specialist bureaus or promotes you to detective, but he has street smarts and an overwhelming sense of calm about him. He’s expert at defusing tensions—in particular talking down belligerent drunks, which I’ve seen him do quite a few times now—and he has the look of an Irish grandfather from a photograph of the 1950s. People think they know him, even when they don’t, and he works it to his advantage. He also has a good rapport with the kids; kind, but a little stern.

We’re passing the neighborhood pub just off the canal when my radio unit crackles and the dispatcher gives our call signs.

I respond and a voice comes through with a bit of static. “You near the canal?”

“Roger that.”

The dispatcher says there’s been a report of a possible homicide at an apartment complex called Canal Landing. “You know where it is? Unit 201.” Jason is listening and his head snaps up.

“Roger that,” I say.

“Bureau is on the way,” the dispatcher says. I tell him we’ll head right over.

“Shite,” Jason says. “That’s where we responded to that possible domestic Saturday night.” Dread sweeps through me. “Yeah, I know.”

We were on a four-to-midnight patrol Saturday night, talking to a neighborhood resident about some graffiti on the South Circular Road, when we got a call about a possible domestic violence situa- tion in an apartment complex right on the canal; someone had heard screaming and fighting and called in to the emergency number.

I’d walked by the gated development of apartments many times, one of a pair next to a vacant lot on that section of the canal. Canal Landing is the shabbier one, built on the cheap in the late ’90s, with twenty duplex units, four to a block, wrapped around a parking lot and small courtyard. The development next to it, called Harbour Quay, is more solid, newer, higher end. On Saturday night, we waited for Canal Landing’s property manager to let us in through the gate, and when we asked him if he’d heard the screaming himself, he said, “I didn’t hear anything,” shrugging as he led us through the quiet park- ing area, dodging a child’s bike lying on the ground and two plastic trucks. “I’ve got a place there on the first floor by the gate and one of the tenants knocked on my door, said there was screaming in one of the apartments, and to call the guards.”

When we knocked at 201 though, a young woman answered the door, dressed in a bathrobe and looking confused when she saw our uniforms. She struck me as legitimately surprised to see us and when we said we’d received a call about a disturbance, she apolo- gized for the noise, explaining she was watching a loud movie. She gestured to the large-screen television, where a now-muted action film was playing, and she seemed fine to us, with no visible injuries on her lovely, fine-boned face. We looked past her into the apart- ment, which seemed to be otherwise unoccupied, gave her the usual spiel about feeling comfortable reaching out for help and even left her a card with the number of the domestic violence prevention hotline. We felt fine about leaving and filed a report indicating that we hadn’t located the caller but that the sound was likely the movie the woman in 201 was watching. That was it. I can’t even remember her name, though we took it down for the report.

When you’ve responded to a possible domestic and left without arresting anyone, a follow-up call to the address is bad news. A possible homicide at the address is pretty much your worst nightmare.

Jason’s normally placid face is twisted in worry now. “I guess we’d better get down there and see what’s going on,” he says, casting a final glance at the canal, at Donald and his wife and the other birds carving rippling channels through the water. The skies are darkening now, and I think he must be right. It’s going to rain tonight.


Copyright © Sarah Stewart Taylor 2023. All rights reserved.

About A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor:

After months of training, former Long Island homicide detective Maggie D’arcy is now officially a Garda. She’s finally settling into life in Ireland and so is her teenage daughter, Lilly. Maggie may not be a detective yet, but she’s happy with her community policing assignment in Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood.

When she and her partner find former model and reality tv star Jade Elliot murdered—days after responding to a possible domestic violence disturbance at her apartment—they also discover Jade’s toddler daughter missing. Shorthanded thanks to an investigation into a gangland murder in the neighborhood, Maggie’s friend, Detective Inspector Roly Byrne, brings her onto his team to help find the missing child. But when a key discovery is made, the case only becomes more confusing—and more dangerous. Amidst a nationwide manhunt, Maggie and her colleagues must look deep into Jade’s life—both personal and professional—to find a ruthless killer.

Learn More Or Order A Copy

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.