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Karma Houdini: Literature
  • In Michael Grant's Gone series, Albert doesn't get any retribution for abandoning Perdido Beach in Fear. Thanks to a publicity stunt in Light, he ends up getting interviewed by CNBC, and McDonald pays for his education.
  • In Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, the Windrip regime oppresses and brutalizes the American population. Unfortunately, Windrip and Macgoblin never face justice for their crimes, living in exile in France and Haiti, respectively.
  • At the end of Roald Dahl's Matilda we have Harry Wormwood preparing to flee the police who are onto him and his crooked car business. Also, The Trunchbull, despite being a major child abuser, is allowed to leave the school with her dignity intact and without facing any kind of punishment for her actions, although she is at least terrified out of her mind before doing so and forced to effectively give up the house she stole from Miss Honey.
  • One of the Platonic Dialogues specifically brought up a theoretical "loved tyrant" as a Villain with Good Publicity and Karma Houdini to be the counterpart to The Chew Toy and Hero with Bad Publicity, the "hated philosopher" in consideration of whether morality comes merely from reward and punishment, or from some deeper source. (Plato contends, more or less, that the philosopher is still better off because his is the well-ordered rational soul, and has thus found Eudaimonia, true happiness; this in spite of having had his eyes gouged out with a hot poker and being sent to Hell by the Greeks' gods who are just as susceptible to false propaganda as the mortals.)
  • Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the fix-it-up chappie from Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches, and quite likely the very first Karma Houdini we met as young children. Mr. McBean takes advantage of the Sneetches' prejudices again and again, charging them for his service of adding or removing the stars on their bellies. First it was just three dollars, then it was ten dollars, and so on and so on. His punishment? Mr. McBean departs a rich man toward the end of the tale. Although the Karma Houdini's actions did ultimately help the people he conned.
  • The makers of the Horton Hears A Who film note in the commentary that he "wasn't in the comeuppance business." With the exception of Yeartle the Turtle, and the unwelcome guests in Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, it's rare that any villain in any book gets what's coming to him or her. The creators of the Horton Hears a Who! film even used this to justify the Sour Kangaroo being Easily Forgiven, as "Dr. Seuss wasn't in the comeuppance business."
  • Done by Mark Twain way back in the 1860s, who satirized the Laser-Guided Karma of children's morality tales in "The Story of the Bad Little Boy".
  • Judge Holden, of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Plus the cannibals of The Road, and the 3 murderous strangers of Outer Dark. McCarthy loves this trope.
    • Anton Chigurh from another McCarthy film/novel No Country for Old Men. Over the course of the book, he kills a cop, a guy who had a car he wanted, several dozen Mexican drugrunners, a harmless old woman who happened to be in the wrong place, a hotel clerk who happened to be on shift when he showed up, the hitman with a heart of gold, some more Mexicans, and the protagonist's wife. He also blows up a car just outside a pharmacy, so he can rip off some medical supplies to fix his leg. His punishment? A broken arm. Granted, this all was the point of the story's message, but still.
  • Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame. Disney doesn't seem to remember it, but he escaped scot free with a chest of treasure, and was never caught. Not bad, for a month's murder and betrayal. As Dr. Livesay puts it, "I can almost find it in my heart to hope he makes it."
    • Oddly, The Muppets adaptation of the story averts this. Silver escapes with a part of the treasure, but unfortunately for him, he just happened to choose the leaky lifeboat. His boat sinks with the treasure on it and he ends up stranded on Treasure Island with only the inhabitants for company. Which, considering it's a Muppet movie and the inhabitants are therefore bizarre in the extreme, might be a strange case of going all the way from Karma Houdini to Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Even before Long John, Victor Hugo used this trope in Les Misérables by having the evil Thenardier not only go free, but use the money Marius gave him to become a slave trader in the United States. This example definitely fits the first reason for having a Karma Houdini, sending a message that despite the ultimate happy ending, evil tends to triumph.
    • In the musical, Thenardier and his wife both profit from the revolution and their body-looting, but they do gleefully sing that they're aware that when they die, they'll end up in Hell.
    • Two other characters responsible for messing up Fantine's life, the student who gets her pregnant and abandons her and Bamatabois, the politician who assaults her after she becomes a prostitute, have nothing bad happen to them, and Hugo discusses how both of them consider their behavior nothing more than good-humoured fun.
  • Victor Hugo included another Karma Houdini in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the character of Phoebus, a womanizing soldier who suffers no ill effects after allowing the woman who supposedly "killed" him to hang for the crime. Most film adaptations of the story have him meet a more "karmically proper" fate and Disney's animated adaptation actually turns him into a hero who gets the girl in the end.
  • Seems Hugo loved Karma Houdinis. Because Rigoletto is based on a theater piece by him named "The King is having fun", and the King of France (Duke of Mantua in the opera) also never gets his comeuppance for what he does to Blanche/Gilda, who also dies there for being a Love Martyr.
    • Another Hugo example: he wrote a poem, "Sultan Murad", which is a long description of murders, genocides and other bloodsheds perpetrated by Murad. At the end, Murad goes to heaven for having shown pity for a pig dying in front of a butcher's shop.
  • Seems to be a French thing. When d'Artagnan and The Three Musketeers foil Cardinal de Richelieu's plan, and kill the evil Milady de Winter, d'Artagnan gets to confront him, along with the pardon the cardinal wrote for Milady. The Cardinal's response? To offer d'Artagnan a paper for a promotion as Lieutenant for the king's Musketeers of the guard, with the name left blank. D'Artagnan offers the promotion to his friends, but seeing as they all want to retire he ends up taking it. Richelieu keeps his power and has his Dragon, Rochefort make peace with the heroes.
    • In the novel Richelieu is however not quite the villain as which he appears in most adaptations and it can be argued that for the most part he is acting pragmatically in the best interests of his master, Louis XIII, and his country, even in his intrigue against the Queen Anne, who was after all conspiring with the leading minister of the major enemy power, (unintentionally) goading Lord Buckingham on to wage war against France so that he could take her away from her husband. So you could say that that the real Karma Houdini of this story is Queen Anne, who not from malice, but from folly was indirectly responsible for quite a few otherwise avoidable deaths but ends up with her husband none the wiser and secure in her position.
    • The sequel The Vicomte de Bragelonne has two examples: King Louis XIV steals the hero's girlfriend, causing him to commit Suicide by Cop, which in turn causes Athos (his father) to die in sympathy with him. The King then goes on to dump said girlfriend, live happily ever after and become an important historical figure.
      • In the same novel, Aramis scams Porthos into helping him carry out a complicated scheme to put the King's twin brother on the throne (letting Porthos think they're helping the real King). They're discovered and forced to flee, and Porthos dies when a cave collapses. A few years later, Aramis is back in France as a Spanish diplomat and treated with all honour, even by the King.
  • In novels where he's the antagonist, Arsène Lupin always gets off scot-free. More often than not he outright wins. The series is named after him, so....
  • Children's books in which the main antagonist receives little-to-no comeuppance for their crimes tend to be at the top of "most frequently banned" lists. Like The Chocolate War and Blubber.
    • Have you seen my tailypo?
  • Lampshaded in The Princess Bride. "Nobody kills Humperdinck. He lives." However, Humperdinck's fate is a bit more like a Fate Worse than Death, as it is suggested that living in the shadow of his own cowardice is his punishment.
  • Steve Stirling's notorious dystopia the Domination of the Draka wins at the end of The Stone Dogs.
  • Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events beat Klaus, tried to force Violet to marry him, burned down several houses, committed an awful lot of murder, stole 27 cakes, and various other nasty things it would take too long to list here. His eventual death was one of the saddest parts of the series, and the Baudelaires visit his grave sometimes. He was probably too silly a villain for anything more brutal than the harpoon to the gut that he got to happen to him, though.
    • Most of the cast of the series were all last seen in a hotel that was on fire. No one, not even the narrator, knows who survived if any. If they all did survive (which is possible, as the Baudelaires and Justice Strauss did warn everyone to evacuate), it means that all of the people who committed crimes and were horrible got away. Interestingly, this was doubly subverted by Mr. Sir. In The Miserable Mill, the end implies that he will be in some sort of legal trouble, as it is revealed that it's illegal in their town to use coupons as payment. While he appears to be fine in The Penultimate Peril, he mentions that the forest he uses for boards is running out of trees and he hopes that the meeting he was called for will be about some business deal, implying that even if he did survive the fire, his company was screwed anyway.
  • In Paul Murray's novel Skippy Dies, after driving Skippy to suicide Lori feels as if she did nothing wrong. Also, Skippy's swimming coach gets away with drugging him and sexually abusing him because the principal didn't want to deface the school's reputation and upset the already grieving parents.
  • Anybody who has read American Psycho will know that the exploits of Ax-Crazy Serial Killer Patrick Bateman are some of the most sadistic and gruesome atrocities ever depicted in literature, yet in the end, because of the emotional emptiness of everyone around him, he received no comeuppance, even after admitting his crimes to his lawyer. It is implied that this is exactly what Patrick didn't want, however, and in the end, even his horrific crimes leave him with nothing but emptiness and despair.
    • Then again, Bateman is just so fucked in the head that it's entirely possible that all those horrific murders never actually took place. For all we know, he just imagined the whole thing.
  • Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" created quite a shock with readers when the villain "The Misfit" murders a family in cold blood with no consequences whatsoever (physically anyway).
  • Medea from Greek mythology and the play by Euripides. After many, many acts of murder (including her blameless younger brother in a cold-blooded attempt to get away) she is rescued from death by the gods and spirited away to become a queen in Athens. Oh, and she ended up married to Achilles in the afterlife.
    • Averted in the Musical Adaptation Marie Christine, where the musical is a flashback told from inside her jail cell, before she is to be executed in the morning.
    • Some versions portrait Medea as a less evil person, where she only killed her brother through an accident, and Jason was a jerkass, who wanted to leave her for another woman. It goes at least back to Euripides, who made her a sympathetic character in his play about her. He even let her talk against the oppression of women in ancient Greek society!

  • Tobias from Animorphs indisputably qualifies. Per Megamorphs #02 Tobias is an Omnicidal Maniac responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and wiping out the peaceful Mercora race in the process. Despite committing an act of genocide that would rank him up there with Hitler and Pol Pot, Tobias never faces any consequences for his actions - not even guilt. Indeed, the whole sordid business is forgotten for the rest of the series.
    • Basically, during a Time Travel adventure, we find two sentient races on Earth before the end of the dinosaurs. Each Nesk is made from a colony of insectlike creatures. They're bad. The Mercora are like giant crab people. They're good. A meteor was on its way, but the Mercora could stop it. Tobias ensured the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs and thus allowed humans to evolve as we did would hit. Modern ants and crabs are said to be what's left of the Nesk and the Mercora. This would make Tobias a greater villain than the Big Bads of the series, except because it's what resulted in humans, Protagonist-Centered Morality and Most Writers Are Human makes it a sad-but-necessary act of keeping history on track rather than an unspeakable horror as far as the plot is concerned.
  • Vernon & Petunia Dursley in Harry Potter. After 10 years of child abuse that should have gotten both of them in prison (and for which they are not even remotely sorry) all that happens at the end is they are bundled off on a vacation to keep them safe.
    • Vernon and Petunia were never really punished for what they did, but when a wizard would turn up, they always got a scare. Their son Dudley would also mature and redeem himself.
    • The Malfoys. The Malfoy family are magic Nazis, and it's pretty clear we only ever learn a fraction of the crimes they've really committed. But because Narcissa loved her son, they get to go scot-free.
    • Word of God says Rita Skeeter is this trope, because she is still working with the Daily Prophet and writing terrible stories about people, hasn't been punished for being an unregistered Animagus, and never receives comeuppance throughout the entire series.
    • Romilda Vane gives Harry a box of sweets spiked with love potion (the magical equivalent of a date rape drug) and it's only because of Hermione hearing about it beforehand that Harry doesn't eat them. Ron eats them instead and an unlucky series of events leads to Ron getting poisoned accidentally. We never hear about Romilda being punished despite the fact that a teacher knew about the love potion and her actions nearly got a student killed.
  • Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera has one of the greatest Karma Houdinis ever, as the Villain Protagonist Macheath who is a rapist and mass murderer is not only reprieved at the end of the play, but also receives a title of nobility and accompanying castle, as well as a life-long pension.
  • Unusually for a John Grisham novel, the villain of The Appeal is an astoundingly successful example. Carl Trudeau gets away with having carcinogens dumped into the water supply of a poor Mississippi town, rigging a judicial election to avoid having to pay damages for said dumping, bankrupting the main characters, and purposefully running his company into the ground so he can buy the stock while it's dirt cheap and then make billions when the lawsuits for the illegal dumping are dismissed and the stock rises in value. The novel ends with him being worth $3 billion, and contemplating how to make it into $6 billion. All because the little law firm ran him off the Forbes 400. He's most definitely a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Motley in Perdido Street Station by China Miéville. After being, through greed and irresponsibility, one of the primary causes of the near-destruction of the city, and raping and torturing the protagonist's girlfriend halfway to insanity (what sent her all the way wasn't entirely his fault) he gets off scot-free apart from having the statue he was forcing her to make of him destroyed.
  • In any Harry Turtledove book, odds are about 50/50 as to whether the nastier characters will be punished or not. This is partly for realism and partly because many of his characters can't be easily quantified as good or evil. Perhaps the most egregious is his Worldwar series, where Adolf Hitler gets to die of natural causes.
    • Then Germany is nuked in 1964.
    • Averted beautifully in the Timeline-191 storyline, How Few Remain on. This is with Kimball being revealed as the one who sunk the US Destroyer after WW1. The US government doesn't do anything, and then the wife of one of the crewman of the destroyer comes down and kills him. If her escape is a Karma Houdini...
  • The abusive, murderous husband in Holly Lisle's Midnight Rain does get what's coming to him, but his wealthy family, who switched him with another guy in a coma to fake his death and aid and abet his stalking of the main character, gets off.
  • Dolokhov in War and Peace, an icy, Badass amoral jerk prone to horrible actions. After a lifetime of mischief and general unpleasantness, he even becomes something of a hero of the Russian resistance against Napoleon. Well, he does get shot in a duel in the book's first part, but he eventually recovers.
  • The eponymous villain of the Fantômas novels delights in committing extremely brutal and sadistic crimes for seemingly no reason at all. Despite the heroes' efforts, he escapes justice, every time.
  • Sherlock Holmes is beaten by a Karma Houdini in "A Case of Identity". Holmes, having figured out his game, has confronted the culprit at Baker Street, and he admits his guilt but notes that the law cannot touch him. Holmes is forced to let him go, though not without the slight consolation of wiping the sneer off his face by threatening him with a whip.
    • Subverted in "The Blue Carbuncle," in which Holmes actually lets the thief off without punishment, reasoning that prison would make him a worse man than the atoner he now was.
    • In The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, about Moriarty and Moran, Moran even though he meets his canon fate-being arrested for murder because of Holmes following the end of The Great Hiatus-he gets let out after a few years, as opposed to being hanged. Its implied that Moriarty's criminal Firm, though busted, was not totally broken, and Morairty, as former number two, still had some juice.
  • Luciferous in The Algebraist not only gets away after being scared off by the Dwellers and seeing a fleet of ships coming in to retake the star system that he just took over, but the hero never even meets the villain! In the end the villain becomes rather irrelevant to the story despite being what initially sets it off.
  • Variation: General Ebeso in Heroic Proportions dies in his sleep after a brutal reign and would have been one, but janitor fakes an assassination on the toilet, making him a mockery in death.
  • In Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn novel Malleus, Osma brings accusations against Eisenhorn that force him to go rogue. Although they are thoroughly refuted, Osma never even apologizes for the accusations against Eisenhorn and is elected master even after they have been refuted. He does get himself killed at the end of Hereticus, though.
    • Considering this is a universe in which Imperial government policy states "Negotiation is surrender", this isn't surprising.
  • In Dostoevsky's Demons, Petr Stepanovic, Smug Snake and Manipulative Bastard, causes the death and/or the ruin of the great majority of the other characters, both the positive and the negative ones, either directly or indirectly; by the end of the book, he is the only one who gets away from the massacre unscathed, happy and successful.
  • Jane Austen frequently uses one of these to keep her Happily Ever After ending from being too perfect:
    • In Sense and Sensibility: Robert Ferrars gets to keep the generous inheritance he unjustly received in his brother Edward's place (his mother cut him off for refusing to make a rich match she had planned) and live a life of wealth, idleness and luxury while Edward and Elinor are forced to scrape by on their combined inheritances and Edward's salary as a clergyman; his wife Lucy, the Clingy Jealous Girl who almost stole Edward from Elinor, eventually uses her natural talent for flattery to earn the acceptance of Mrs. Ferrars, who never has to pay for her constant verbal abuse of Elinor; and the selfish John Dashwood and his wife receive no retribution for their mistreatment of John's sisters and step-mother throughout the book. The heroic couples are happier with each other than they could ever be with more money or the approval of their snobby relatives. It's also implied that Robert and Lucy are frequently quarrelsome with both each other and with John and Fanny, indicating that although they obtained the material wealth they desired, their characters prevent them from being truly happy.
    • In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney receives no punishment or public censure for his mistreatment of Catherine, and her marriage to his son Henry doesn't happen until he approves of it thanks to an unrelated Deus ex Machina — the heroine doesn't get what she wants until the person who tried hardest to sabotage her sees it as beneficial to himself too! John Thorpe also gets away with his Malicious Slander of Catherine and her family that started that conflict.
    • Mr. Elliot of Persuasion disappears, never to be punished for ruining Mr. Smith's life and leaving his crippled widow to suffer by refusing to exert the effort to get her the funds from an estate she desperately needs to survive (Captain Wentworth takes care of it later). It's implied he hooked up with the heroine's father's would-be 2nd wife.
    • George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice once tried to seduce Darcy's underage sister in revenge for not giving him more money after he wasted his inheritance, slanders Darcy's name in Hertfordshire, seduces Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia, and runs off with her to London with no intention of marrying her. This being 19th century Britain, when even rumors of premarital sex could ruin a woman's reputation forever. His comeuppance? He gets paid a ton of money to marry her, above and beyond her dowry plus all of his debts in Hertfordshire and Brighton paid off. He gets away completely scot-free; the only thing that could possibly be considered a punishment is that Lydia seems like she'd be a pretty annoying wife.
      • Authors of works inspired by this generally have him receiving comeuppance of some description. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has Darcy beat the shit out of him (thus rendering him lame), Bride & Prejudice has Darcy, Lalita, and Lakhi gang up on him, while the Latter-Day version has him getting arrested for gambling. Curiously, Lost in Austen goes the opposite route entirely.
    • At the end of Mansfield Park, mean old Mrs. Norris gets her comeuppance for her cruelty to her niece Fanny and favoritism to her other nieces Maria & Julia. She is essentially banished from Mansfield Park to live a tedious life abroad with adulteress Maria.
  • The Apprentice Adept series has a few:
    • Adept Red in the original trilogy. Though we find out later that The Oracle, itself, had set her on the path of destruction via a carefully worded prophecy, she's still directly responsible for several murders - including Adept Blue (Stile's Proton self), her own Proton self, plus Stile's best friend, Hulk - and the knee injuries that ended his horse racing career. This in addition to being one of the nastier Adepts around. Her fate... Exile from Phaze after losing to Stile in a Great Game match, her crimes completely unaddressed.
      • Within the series, however, exile from Proton is often treated as a Fate Worse than Death (probably due to Author Appeal). It also means she'll never be able to go back to Phaze, as Proton is the only place where you can cross over to it. So she's been denied all her power, banished from her home, and kicked into an unfamiliar universe (albeit, admittedly, with a damn good severance package). So she doesn't get off completely without retribution, she's just not punished as thoroughly as some might like.
  • Although he does make a Heel-Face Turn in the end, Popov of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six manages to score a deal for immunity after staging a series of terrorist attacks as part of the Big Bad's plan to use an artificial variant of the Ebola virus to wipe out all but a tiny handful of people. He also keeps all the money he was paid to stage these attacks (and gets a gold mine to boot). It's a serious case of Black and Grey Morality - he's amoral and only activated the terrorist cells for large amounts of cash but he's not nearly as insane or genocidally evil as the main villains of the book.
  • Les Farley from Philip Roth's The Human Stain gets away with the murder of his ex-wife and her lover. However as the portions of the book shown from his perspective suggest that he will never recover from his psychological scars due to his experiences in Vietnam it's hard to see him as a gloating victor.
  • Wyrn of Elantris is a justified example on several levels - while he is responsible for almost all of the turmoil of the book, he accomplishes this through agents and his only appearance on page is a cameo. Also, Brandon Sanderson still plans on someday writing a sequel, so preserving his Big Bad was rather important. The villain who actually does the evil deeds in question, though, gets a nice Karmic Death courtesy of the resident Magnificent Bastard.
  • The little girl in The Bad Seed. Not in the movie version, however, thank you very much Hays Code.
  • In the Father Brown story "The Sins of Prince Saradine", the title character pulls off a brilliant one of these by manipulating his two enemies so that one of them kills the other believing it to be him, and gets executed without ever finding out he was wrong.
  • Lord Pumphrey of the Sharpe series. Seemingly a fun, cool chap who does what he has to do for the crown of England. Then he ruthlessly has Sharpe's girlfriend and her father's throats cut. When confronted about this in the latest Sharpe book, he mockingly tells Sharpe he's not sorry in the least and skips out with no retribution in the slightest. (Well, Sharpe destroys a letter he'd been planning to use for blackmail purposes but that's pretty much the opposite of Disproportionate Retribution.) Many readers hope he's to get his in future books as he sure deserves it.
  • In The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, (author of the Sharpe series above) most of the various bad guys get a Karmic Death of some sort, but several get off scot free, such as the Saxon King Cerdic and his champion Liofa. More significantly, the oily, treacherous, Corrupt Clergyman Sansum never gets any payback that sticks to him after betraying every side in 3 books, and ends the last book by ordering the protagonist and narrator to perform a Last Stand against the oncoming Saxon invaders in order to cover Sansum's retreat.
    • Well, Cerdic is a historical figure, so little could be done there. At least his forces were shattered at the Battle of Badon Hill and his ambition destroyed.
    • Also while Liofa dies naturally, he still dies a horrible death, choking in his own shit.
  • In Kerrelyn Sparks's vampire romance The Undead Next Door, Heather's ex-husband is a total dick. He's condescending, constantly calls his ex-wife a whore, belittles her, and is emotionally abusive. He is put under mind control so that he thinks he's a cockroach every time he curses her. In the end, though, he learns nothing from the experience but the mind control is lifted so he can spend weekends with his five-year-old-daughter.
  • Pa in The Color Purple. He regularly rapes (and twice impregnates) his daughter, Celie, and steals the babies the night they're born, then slanders her as loose to explain the pregnancies to her sick and dying mother. Later, he counter-offers her hand in marriage to Mr.____ when he asks for her younger sister, Nettie, because he wants to keep said younger sister to himself; Pa offers him Celie and cites the physical damage he's done as a selling point— "You can do everything just how you like, and she ain't gonna make you feed it or clothe it." He lives to a ripe old age, dies having sex with his new wife, and never even has to face up to any of the horrible atrocities he visited on his family, let alone suffer any consequences for them. The best we get is finding out that he wasn't Celie's biological father, and that Celie and Nettie will get their house back; it's a bit of a hollow victory, since the house should have passed to them when their mother passed away, and Pa never had a right to it to begin with.
  • Whacked: The main character in the novel by Jules Asner fits the bill, big time.
  • The short story "History and Economics" from Assassin Fantastic has a nasty Karma Houdini: the young Herr Jan Arner confronts the woman he suspects assassinated his sister, only to realize his own uncle ordered her murder — and sent him right to the assassin so she could finish that part of the contract as well. He figures this out right as she finishes the job.
  • An interesting example from "George Washington Gomez" by Americo Paredes, in that the main protagonist becomes the villain in the last chapter. Another example of doing it to anger the reader, as it illustrates him becoming an Uncle Tom.
  • Isabel from The Razor's Edge is a bit of an egregious example: To explain, she tried to prevent Larry and Sophie from getting married by tempting Sophie with alcohol and lead her out of Paris, leading Sophie to her death. When the narrator finds out, Isabel tries to justify her actions by saying that Sophie would've ruined Larry's life if she married him, but she later said that she's glad and enjoyed the fact that she killed Sophie, all while smiling. While the narrator tells her that she'll never have Larry, this turns out to be a bit of a weak punishment as Isabel will still inherit her fortune and become richer than ever before. Worse yet, her reward is "an assured position backed by a substantial fortune in an active and cultured community." This may even be an Exaggerated Trope.
  • A deconstructed trope in The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin. The main character Matthew wanted to kill his physically and emotionally abusive mother, especially after she kidnapped his little sister. Instead, he let her be. But she can no longer have custody over her children and can't return home out of fear of being thrown into jail for kidnapping. She would still send letters to her children, sometimes warm, sometimes threatening, but she has no power over their lives anymore. She could live her own life however she wanted, flirty and irresponsible, but as Matthew noted, she is getting older and harsh reality is catching up to her.
  • In Edgar Allan Poe 's story "The Cask of Amontillado", the narrator details how he interred his friend in a wall, and reveals that it's been 50 years since this happened, and that he has gotten away with it.
    • He does state that he had a very good reason for doing it, but never reveals what it is, and we're left to wonder if a mind twisted enough to come up with such a punishment wouldn't also take offense rather more easily than a normal person.
  • Rosalind in the Tana French novel In the Woods poisons her younger sisters Katie and Jessica in order to make them sick. When Katie finally wises up and stops eating anything Rosalind gives her, Rosalind arranges for Katie to be raped and murdered. Rosalind brags about this to the police, but because she's only 17, they can't use her confession because her parents weren't present when she made it.
  • Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens. He does eventually end up imprisoned, but for debt, and not for murdering Lord Verisopht.
  • In W.E.B. Griffin's The Corps series, Macklin is this in almost every book. In the first book alone, he falsifies reports to put blame on his subordinates, but escapes a court-martial due to them not wanting to draw attention to intelligence matters, and stays in the Corps because of the war scare freezing dismissals. Then he continues his grudge against Ken McCoy by sabotaging his officer's training, escaping a court-martial (which would probably be for treason under the circumstances) because it would look bad for The Corps to admit having someone like him in it.
  • At times, Brer Rabbit, the Designated Hero of Joel Chandler Harris's Brer Rabbit stories, does far more horrible actions than the villains (Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, etcetera). Not only does he routinely trick his enemies, he also occasionally tortures them, humiliates them, and murders them. He is never punished for any of these actions.
    • 'Mr. Rabbit Nips the Butter'. The story goes that Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Possum are out in the woods together, when Brer Rabbit steals their butter supply while the others are sleeping. He eats it, and then smears it on Brer Possum. This results in an argument the next day, resulting in a strange 'trial'. A fire is set up, and all three of them have to jump over the fire. The one that fails to make the jump is declared the guilty party. Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox make it over the fire with minor singing, but Brer Possum lands straight in the fire 'Keblam! And dat was the last of ole Brer Possum.'. The little boy to whom Uncle Remus tells the story objects to this injustice, saying that Brer Possum didn't steal the butter. And Uncle Remus replies that 'in this world, lots of folks gonna suffer for other folks' sins.'
  • Josh Pinder in the spin-off Halloween book The Old Myers Place. He at first appears fairly normal, but his status as a spoiled, assholish Rich Bitch soon becomes apparent, and he eventually tries to rape the main character (with it being revealed he tried doing the same to another girl the previous year). You'd think all that would cause Michael to zero in on him like a homing missile, but no, he survives.
  • The first chapter of the first book of Incarnations of Immortality has a great example. Zane goes into a shop where an extremely dishonest shopkeeper sells magic stones. Zane was fated to win the love of an incredibly beautiful and rich woman, but the shopkeeper tricks him into trading this destiny for a magical stone whose powers are all but useless. The shopkeeper gets to marry this beautiful, rich, and loving wife, while Zane is so distressed by losing this chance at happiness that he is Driven to Suicide. We never see this shopkeeper again, so his story ends with him Riding into the Sunset with the woman whose love he stole from Zane.
  • Blackstar from Warrior Cats. He follows Tigerstar, and does horrible things for him, but when Tigerstar dies, everyone is content to let him become leader of ShadowClan and never mention his horrible deeds again.
    • That could be explained by the fact that he was only doing Tigerstar's dirty work, and that he was turning over a new leaf in becoming leader. While not exactly the most pleasant of cats in Warrior Cats: The New Prophecy, he seems to have been fully redeemed into a kindly old veteran by Warrior Cats: Omen of the Stars. He may have even redeemed himself by fighting alongside the three other Clans in the fight against BloodClan.
    • Also Misha from the Expanded Universe novel SkyClan's Destiny. She both rips out Percy's eye and takes one of Leafstar's lives. Does anything bad at all happen to her? No, she gets off with just a slap of the wrist.
    • There's also Ashfur, one of the fandom's biggest Base Breakers - his Karma Houdini status is even discussed in-universe. As revenge for Squirrelflight breaking up with him, he plots with Hawkfrost to try and kill his own Clan leader (Squirrelflight's father), framing Squirrelflight's mate Brambleclaw in the process, and he later attempts to murder her children. When she reveals that they're not really hers, he decides to reveal that information publicly. He gets killed by Hollyleaf before he can do this. He shows up in StarClan - the feline version of heaven - in a later book. Jayfeather, one of the cats Ashfur had tried to kill, is furious that he's there, and asks his Spirit Advisor Yellowfang why he's there, when most traitors/murderers go to the Dark Forest. Yellowfang responds that "His only fault was to love too much".
    • Shrewclaw, Tallstar's bully from Tallstar's Revenge. Even after all the mean stuff he did to the latter, he was never reprimanded much and continued taunting Tallstar. Though it can be said that he felt bad about it after he died and somehow made up with Tallstar in the end of the story.
  • The villain who ordered Amiranda Crest's murder in Bitter Gold Hearts, Willa Dount, not only gets away with the crime, but is 180,000 gold marks richer at the end.
  • One of the worst offenders of this trope is the party members from 1984. They try to eliminate all joy in the world and it's implied that they will never fall out of power. It wouldn't be much of a dystopia otherwise.
  • Happens to some villains in A Song of Ice and Fire, even though there are two more books to be written. Let's hope that they will finally pay for their crimes.
    • Not only does Littlefinger never get punished for his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, he's one of the only characters who actually comes out of every single book better than he started it.
    • Ramsay Bolton may count even more than Littlefinger.
    • Despite his Character Development, if the theory that the gravedigger on the Quiet Isle is him, Sandor Clegane seems to have got clean away with his murder of Mycah.
  • The only time Fisk really gets caught causing trouble in the Knight and Rogue Series is when it's needed as an excuse to get him indebted to Michael. Other than that, he can lie, dance around the police, and break into all the houses he wants. Granted, most of his burglaries are actually for the greater good, even if he's doing them to people who are in no violation of the law. The only reason he doesn't do it more is because Michael ruins any con Fisk tries to run in his presence.
  • In Dead Souls, Chichikov fakes the testament of Khlobuyev's rich aunt, is even thrown into prison, but the influential Murayov liberates him with a complicated scheme, and Chichikov can leave the town - although Murayov also told him to change his ways. A somewhat Bittersweet Ending.
  • In the Forgotten Realms short story "Dark Mirror," the village bully of Pengallen keeps a goblin as a slave. When the goblin escapes, he tricks Drizzt into recapturing him. And while Drizzt, who's learned the truth, goes off to get help, he murders the goblin, claims it was self-defense, and intimidates the rest of Pengallen into backing him up when Drizzt gets back. Drizzt, whose acceptance as a drow on the surface is already tenuous, is unable to do anything.
    • Jarlaxle manipulated events to start a war in Luskan. After the fighting was over, with tons of citizens dead and the city partially destroyed, he deliberately caused starvation by preventing the flow of supplies into the city, and starved the people of Luskan until they rebelled against the new government and installed Jarlaxle's associate as the next ruler. Not only is this not treated as a Moral Event Horizon, but Jarlaxle suffers no real consequences for it, convincing Drizzt that he had nothing to do with it.
  • In Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee, a woman called Lucy is gang raped by three men. Two of the rapists are never caught — the third and youngest attacker, Pollux, she sees at her neighbour's party. Her father (not exactly the most upstanding person in the novel to say the least, but still her father) freaks out. Turns out Pollux is the neighbour's brother-in-law. The neighbour has known all along that he was one of the attackers, but has been protecting him. Lucy herself refuses to do much, because she doesn't want to "cause trouble" by pressing charges. Instead, she decides to "protect" herself by marrying into the rapist's family, effectively handing her home and land over to them in the process. Worse, her neighbour says that while he'll marry her (polygamously) in the meantime, Pollux will marry her when he's old enough. Adding vicious insult to horrific injury...did we mention that Lucy is a lesbian who would otherwise never have considered marrying a man? It's all tangled up in the politics of Post-Apartheid South Africa, but the bottom line is that the rapists are all Karma Houdinis, beyond the beating the father gives Pollux (in which Lucy rescues her attacker from her father).
  • In Time Scout, Jack the Ripper half gets away with it.
  • Jack and Roger in Lord of the Flies. While the book is filled with cases of Humans Are the Real Monsters, these two are the worst. Hopefully the Navy caused this trope to be averted.
  • In Dale Brown books, Russian President Evils have usually met sticky ends. The Chinese ones? All get away with it. Also, the Iranian general Buzhazi, who survives Shadows of Steel and returns to benefit from an Enemy Mine.
  • Despite everything that he does throughout his series, Harry Paget Flashman always manages to avoid any sort of comeuppance for his crimes and cowardice and is even thought of as a hero in the British Empire. This is not so much the case in Tom Browns Schooldays.
  • Catch-22 gives us both Milo Minderbender and Aarfy. The first sells the parachutes and medical supplies of his squadron to the enemy to make money, and lets his squadron be bombed (providing location and removing defences) in order to sell cotton and ends the novel as one of the richest men in America, while the later rapes and murders a woman and gets off completely, utterly free, while the police arrest the main character standing next to Aarfy for going A.W.O.L.
  • The series of books focusing on Tom Ripley, Affably Evil Villain Protagonist, showcase his various misdeeds which include a string of violent murders, with him always getting away with it.
  • In the Agent Pendergast novel Reliquary, Mrs. Wisher might be considered one. She is largely responsible for the riots that take place and is rewarded with a government position.
  • The Volturi from the Twilight series. The last part of Breaking Dawn puts the protagonists in a position to finally face them in a huge battle... but nothing actually happens. The Volturi get to go home and eat more humans, as do the Cullens' more unsavoury temporary allies. When you're a tiny island of good in a global society of evil, there are gonna be a lot of Karma Houdinis whatever you do.note 
  • Lord Scourge from The Old Republic novel Revan, who gets away with not only backstabbing the Exile and never feeling any regret over cold-bloodedly murdering her, but being awarded a medal of honor by Republic forces.
  • In Rumer Godden's children's novel The Dolls' House, the villainess Marchpane, after enslaving the other dolls and turning their owners to neglect them in her favour, successfully sets a trap to lead Mrs. Plantagenet to incinerate herself in the fireplace. She is not punished, just sent back to her previous existence as a museum exhibit.
  • Uncle Pete in Alfie's Home outright molests his nephew the Title Character. At the end, he is told that what he did was wrong…and that's it. No real punishment. No arrest. He just gets told that what he did was wrong and is then forgiven. WHAT?!?
  • In Dear Mr. Henshaw, there is a thief who steals items from people's lunchboxes, namely the main characters' desserts and other various food items from other people's lunches. The thief is never actually caught, nor are they ever figured out.
  • Sadaiyo of the Griffin's Daughter trilogy. He's cruel, sadistic, spiteful, and utterly self-absorbed. His parents, Lord Sen and Lady Amara basically overlook his many petty and not-so-petty cruelties (up to and including attempting to rape Jelena) because he's the heir to Sen's throne and hold out hope he'll grow up on his own. He doesn't.
  • James Swallow, author of the Blood Angels series, lobbied Black Library and Games Workshop to let him kill Fabius Bile in Black Tide, but was refused. Ergo, Bile never receives adequate punishment for his crimes against sapient life.
  • Adventure Hunters has two straight examples and a weird one
    • Jerrod is not punished for starting the initial conflict. His Captain of the Guard had to twist his arm to make him give back the lands he took.
    • Zambwe disappears after he is paid; no mention is ever made of him again.
    • Here's the weird one: Reyvas is acknowledged by all (except Jerrod) as The Good King and yet they all equally acknowledge that he has to be punished for breaking the local Nuclear Weapons Taboo; war golems. This makes Jerrod's lack of punishment all the more galling.
  • At the end of The Children and the Wolves, Bounce has lost virtually nothing. Sure, her plans have been upset but she suffers no punishment for all of her crimes and she can always find another source of revenue to finish the job she started. On top of that, there's almost nothing linking her to the crimes, as the boy who upset her plans ran away from home and the only other one who knows what happened is wrapped around her finger. The only other person who could possibly identify her is a little girl who doesn't even know her real name and might not even remember her face.
  • Subverted for Krager in The Tamuli. He gets away (last seen on a boat headed homewards), and as a rich man, too... except being a life-long alcoholic takes its toll, and by the time the heroes take stock and worry where he is, he is so far gone that he probably wouldn't even realize if someone stabbed him.
  • In The Great Gatsby, when his mistress was killed by Daisy, Tom directs her suicidally depressed husband to get revenge on Gatsby, who then kills both Gatsby and himself. Tom and Daisy drift off to Chicago and leave the whole mess behind. However, it is implied their relationship has been ruined by the whole experience. It's one of the themes of the book: the rich makes a huge mess and leave, making others clean up.
  • Martin is an almost ridiculous example in The Oathsworn series. Even tortured and imprisoned several times he still manages to come back and cause trouble everytime.
  • Knowledge Of Angels: Although the abbess curses them, she doesn't inform the authorities of the shepherds raping Amara, and they're never punished or even arrested.
  • The entire Thorburn family, in Pact, has successfully been this for the past seven generations in a setting where Karma is an actual law of the universe and bad deeds get passed down through family lines. At this point, the universe is less throwing bad luck their way and more overtly trying to kill them, and the current heir continues to evade it.
  • An American ship captain in Harry Harrison's Stars And Stripes Alternate History trilogy blows up a British ship without provocation. Why? Because he wants a fight. It's not even much of a fight, as the American ship blows the opponent away with two volleys from its main guns, and the Brits don't even have time to react. That incident is quickly forgotten, and the captain in question gets away scot-free.

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