This proficient, well-muscled kid-and-cops story begins, just after the murder of a nine-year-old girl in an abandoned Los Angeles theater, with the arrest of a teenage boy who is loitering nearby. It turns out that the boy, Matt, is the murdered girl's brother (recently orphaned by a car crash, they ran away so they could stay together); but even after he proves the relationship, he can't prove his innocence. Tony Prado, one of the two arresting policemen, believes in Matt and takes him home. Then, however, Tony is kidnapped (later returned) and Matt is in the hands of Les Ryder, a tough, seemingly cynical cop who thinks the worst of him. Before Mrs. Ryder's faith and Matt's own behavior bring Ryder around, Matt is brutally raped by fellow prisoners in a detention cell, ostracized at school when his connection with the murder comes out, badly beaten by a drug gang who suspect him of spying, and goaded into several displays of temper that undercut his efforts to prove himself. If Miller piles on the bad luck, she does a pounding, knock-down job of it. And if she then goes overboard with Matt's heart-warming success, the sentimentality--in Matt's ultimate acceptance by the Ryders, in his climactic rescue of their little girl from a swimming pool, and for that matter in his memories of his sister throughout--is invested with enough interpersonal tension to keep readers keenly involved with this forsaken kid who just wants to be believed.