Slow but steady may win the race and lose the reader as Christopher Long, fourteen, moves toward acceptance of his stepfather through a German Shepherd called Smoke. Mystically drawn to the majestic outlaw found sick near his treehouse, Chris tries to hide his existence from all but his mercurial, effervescent sister Susie, is forced into revelation in order to get medical aid. The stepfather Cal, a dignified man who consistently takes the right attitude, makes the right decisions, insists on an honest search for the true owner; the owner appears (with a very sad story) and Chris, after some bitter words, runs away. As he plods over the Oregon mountains, Chris realizes that he respects Cal and wants Cal's respect, decides to ask his pardon and return the stolen Smoke. A phone call reveals that Cal has bought the dog, but the difficult choice had already been faced and made, completing the story. The point of view is too external for deep involvement, but the four characters (and the dog) are individual and interesting. Dog story lovers will find more than a dog story here, may recognize a familiar theme sensitively treated.