Book Review: A Stolen Child by Sarah Stewart Taylor

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. Read on for Janet Webb's review!

A Stolen Child, the 4th Maggie D’arcy mystery, continues the story which began with The Mountains Wild. Maggie’s cousin Erin Flaherty, with whom she was exceptionally close, disappears in Dublin in 1993. Erin’s dad Danny, the owner of Flaherty’s Irish bar on Long Island, is unable to leave, so Maggie steps up, searching for Erin for weeks, to no avail.  The experience changes her life; she drops out of Notre Dame (where she was an English major with a focus on Irish literature) and joins the police force. Fast forward, she becomes an investigative detective. In 2016 Detective Roland “Roly” Byrne calls to say Erin’s scarf has been discovered. 

The Maggie who returns to Dublin in 2016 is a gifted profiler, able to internalize massive amounts of information and sort it out into patterns; to triangulate. That’s the expertise she brings to the re-opening of Erin’s case and a recent incident. Niamh Horrigan, a twenty-five-year-old teacher disappeared in the same area where Erin was last thought to be. Can Maggie’s expertise make a difference this time?

While investigating Erin’s death, Maggie rekindles a relationship with (now) Professor Conor Kearney, whom she met in 1993. 

Back on Long Island, Maggie is at odds with Jay Cooney, her unsupportive superior. Cooney doesn’t have her back when persistent Maggie investigates a murder (an Irish national is shot on the beach). A Distant Grave straddles Long Island and Ireland: Maggie turns her planned visit to Conor into a busman’s holiday. “Much good detective work leads from hunches and suppositions,” skills in Maggie’s wheelhouse, but the days of investigating take their toll. 

“Should I stay, or should I go?” reverberates in Maggie’s head—stay in Long Island or move to Ireland? After she’s fired, the decision isn’t so difficult.  

In The Drowning Sea, set in West Cork, Maggie and her daughter Lilly spend the summer with Conor and his son. Maggie is dragged into solving a local murder. Her specialty is the forensic ability to uncover connections between a murder today and events that happened in the past. Some of the local garda and the Dublin detectives see her as a loose cannon, gifted at what she does, but a person poaching on their turf. She has no credentials in Ireland other than her friendship with “Roly” Byrne, now a Detective Inspector. “Maggie knows how to listen, infer, and interrogate, and it’s killing her to be on the outside looking in—she’s constantly ruminating about what the guard (the colloquial description of the police) are doing.” 

Throwing caution to the winds, Maggie commits to a life with Conor and a police career in a new country. After she completes a year of garda training, she’s assigned to a community policing initiative. It feels strange to be back in uniform, walking the streets of Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood beside her partner Jason Savage.  Their days are uneventful, which is the goal of boots on the ground policing. A few days earlier, on Saturday night, Maggie and Jason were called to a domestic disturbance but the woman who answered the door said everything was fine, attributing screams to a movie she was watching. That morning they facilitated the watery rescue of a duck named Donald. It’s a far cry from D’arcy’s former career.

Later that day, their dispatcher calls them—“there’s been a report of a possible homicide at an apartment complex called Canal Landing.” Unit 201, the same place they visited Saturday night. The shaken property manager says he saw an open door; he investigated and found a dead body. Who was she?

“Jade.” The young woman’s face flashes before me. Green eyes, fine-boned face, sharp cheekbones, a curtain of pale blond hair falling over her face. Jade. Now I remember being grateful that Jason wasn’t the kind of male partner who would sneak in a little aside later about how uncommonly hot she was, the comment forcing its way up like a burp.

It’s awful: “her neck is obviously bruised, a collar of red and purple on her pale skin.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. We should have followed up after Saturday, should have asked more questions. I can feel regret spread through my body, making me nauseous. Jason’s guilty look tells me he’s feeling it, too.

To assuage her guilt, Maggie falls back on routine investigating, thinking “I failed her once. Maybe I can find something now that will help us get her killer.” She checks out half-drunk wine bottles, looks at two large photographs of a glamorous Jade Elliott, smells a “whisper of stale cigarette smoke,” and lastly, is struck by a smell emanating from the kitchen that seems familiar.

Then I have it: dirty diapers. When I open my eyes again, they settle on a small pink blanket draped over one of the chairs. I quickly scan the rest of the room. There’s another colorful blanket laid out in one corner and a few plastic toys and stuffed animals in a small basket.

Everything a baby needs but no baby. Maggie finds a photograph on the fridge, “a gorgeous picture of a gorgeous woman and a gorgeous baby.” Where is she? Did she crawl out onto the terrace? Could she have fallen into the canal? Or has she been abducted? A lost or stolen child is the police force’s worst nightmare. Detective Inspector Byrne brings Maggie on board since his resources are thin (he’s investigating “a gangland murder in the neighborhood”). Not everyone is happy that Maggie is on the team but obviously finding the little toddler trumps everything. The public is mesmerized, since back in the day, Jade Elliott was a “model and reality tv star.” 

It’s absorbing to watch Maggie at work—not as a visitor or an observer or an interested bystander—but as a legitimate member of the garda. Maggie’s gifts of observation, her relentless re-interviewing, and the dogged way she ferrets out the tiniest of details—every skill she possesses is brought to bear in the race against time to find Jade’s baby. It’s not necessary to read the earlier Maggie D’arcy mysteries before you gulp down A Stolen Child, but after you finish, you’ll surely want to.

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