A series of unlucky coincidences drops a boy and his dog down the rabbit hole of Chicago’s meanest streets.
Butch isn’t really Joel Murphy’s dog. The shepherd-Malinois mix, whose specialty is sniffing out drugs, is the partner of Joel’s father, Officer Pete Murphy. Although Joel doesn’t know it—he’s only 11, and his parents don’t share every bit of the family’s bad news with him—Butch is already in trouble for attacking Ja’Kobe White, a gangbanger Pete had pulled over in a serious error of judgment. Now David Cardinale, White’s bulldog lawyer, is suing the Chicago Police Department, and Pete’s under serious pressure to change his story about the stop so that the case can go away. All this intrigue is part of the long, long buildup before the fateful night when Joel, worried about his big sister McKenna’s involvement with some violent bullies, follows her to a party, taking along Butch as backup. The dog follows his nose to a stash, and in the resulting excitement, someone fires three shots, one of which ends up in Aaron Northcutt, one of the bullies. Fearful that Butch will have to be “youth-nized” for his breach of the peace, Joel takes it on the lam. With no money to speak of, no experience of the streets, and no one to turn to but Katherine Crawford, the judge whose involvement with Pete Murphy was the backdrop to Pete’s current troubles, Joel has his work cut out for him. Despite his fear and vulnerability, however, the kid turns out to be as cool under pressure as Alice in Wonderland and as resourceful in his way as Odysseus sailing the Aegean. If only the same were true of the father looking for him.
The air of constant menace depends on too many muddled subplots. But when Schwegel (Last Known Address, 2009, etc.) keeps the focus on Joel and his father, you won’t be able to look away.