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.
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?!?
Anybody who has read American Psycho will know that the exploits of Ax-CrazySerial 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.
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 he was run off the Forbes 400 by the little law firm that wasn't afraid to take it on. He's most definitely a Magnificent Bastard.
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.
Sultan Shahryar is given no comeuppance at all for the murders he has committed in the past; in fact, he ends up with a loving wife and children and gets to live Happily Ever After. (Even worse, the ending shows his brother has been doing the same thing.)
It happens in a few individual stories too; the guy who chopped up his wife and threw her in a trunk in "The Tale of the Three Apples" because he mistakenly thought she was cheating on him is rewarded with a stipend and a concubine. (Possibly Scheherazade was Pandering to the Base there.)
The Evil Vizier in "King Yunan and the Sage Duban", maybe. The sage is dead because the vizier convinced the king to kill him, but the king is dead because the sage's book was poisoned. No mention of who becomes king or whether the vizier was punished. It's possible he was if the king had sons who could take the throne; it's just not mentioned. It's just as possible the Vizier became 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....
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 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.
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.
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.'
Ren, Lylia and Halley get away with kissing a boy they are not married to, which should usually draw his sisters' ire, and/or make him a bit angry, as it could easily end with him being Defiled Forever. This is most likely intentional, as it is a gender-swapped setting, and it is lampshaded that boys are raised to be unable to say "no" to women, but at the same time expected to be chaste. To her credit, Ren does some of the lampshading, and acknowledges that she probably sounds like a hypocrite for telling her victim that he should be allowed to say no. He liked the kisses, but that doesn't excuse it.
Played with in the case of Keifer Porter, who was never punished for the rape, abuse and murder he committed, but did die in an accident later on - in which, however, lots of innocent people also died.
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.
In Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado", the narrator details how he immured his friend in a wall, and reveals that it's been 50 years since this happened, and that he has gotten away with it.
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.
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.
At the end of the novel Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot is forced to concede that he has no proof to convict the murderer and the murderer has no intention of confessing, meaning that they will most likely never answer for their crime. However, it's not exactly a clear-cut case of this trope: The victim was the only person the murderer ever loved, and it's all but outright stated that she's pathetically unable to move on or find any joy in life whatsoever as a result. She's evaded the justice system, but her true punishment is living an empty shell of a life knowing that she destroyed the only thing that ever brought her happiness for little better reason than spite.
Defied in And Then There Were None, as the murderer deliberately chooses nine victims who had previously been Karma Houdinis of various crimes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg's little brother Manny, hoo boy. Manny frequently causes lots of problems for the rest of his family, and neither of his parents seem to have the guts to punish him for them. How bad does it get? Near the end of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, there's a blizzard going on outside, and Manny shuts off the power to every room in the house except his own room, locks himself in there with a ton of food, toys, and other things and leaves his mother and brothers to die. What happens when he's caught? He blames everything on his inability to tie his shoes and suffers no consequences for nearly freezing everyone to death. It's small wonder that he's considered The Scrappy to many fans of the books.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 Brown's Schooldays.
In the 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 The First Law, Bayaz proves to be a manipulative bastard who, after sacrificing thousands of innocents by provoking two wars is yet to suffer his comeuppance in the series so far.
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.
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.
Many of the apathetic, stupid, and borderline abusive adults and parents in these books get away with treating their kids like crap and endangering their safety. Two of the biggest examples of this trope are Mr. and Mrs. Webster from The Cuckoo Clock of Doom and Crystal and Cole's parents from Chicken Chicken. The Websters are completely oblivious to their daughter Tara's sociopathic behavior and believe their son Michael is a liar any time he tries to tell them about Tara's cruelty. Crystal's parents don't believe her claims that she and her brother are going through a horribly painful transformation into actual chickens, and then mock them for it. At the very least, the Websters are shown to become decent people when their daughter is erased from existence, but the Coles never get called out on their behavior.
Also from Chicken Chicken is the Big Bad, Vanessa. The reason she cursed Crystal and Cole in the first place was because they accidentally made her drop her groceries and didn't apologize, while their friend, who also knocked into her, only said "Sorry" as he was running away. The book explicitly describes the transformation the two kids are going through as painful and horrible, but Vanessa never gets any kind of punishment. To make matters worse, she only undoes her spell after Crystal writes her a thank you note for trying to teach them proper manners. And the book ends with her inflicting another curse on Crystal and Cole after they burp without saying excuse me, "Pig, Pig." Vanessa's status as a Karma Houdini is so infuriating she's one of, if not the, most hated character in the whole franchise.
Some of the inhabitants of Heaven in C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce appear to be this by most measures. It's a severe stumbling block for some of the dead spirits, most notably the Big Ghost, whose guide got to Heaven via deathbed conversion. The point Lewis is making is that everyone in Heaven is a Karma Houdini. It's no good saying one person deserves Heaven more than another, because in the end, no one does. The ones who make it in are those who realize they'll never earn it on their own merits, and accept Jesus' gift.
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.
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.
Josh Pinder in the spin-off Halloween book The Old Myers Place. He at first appears fairly normal, but his status as a spoiled, assholishRich 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.
Vernon & Petunia Dursley. 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. They were never really punished for what they did, but when a wizard would turn up, they always got a scare. Their son Dudley had an encounter with Dementors then went on to mature and redeem himself.
The Malfoys. The Malfoy family are magic Nazis, and it's pretty clear only a fraction of the crimes they've really committed is confirmed. But because Narcissa loved her son, they get to go scot-free. The exception is Draco himself: Though he was an unpleasant jerk and tried to murder Dumbledore, it was done under duress, his jerkass acts sometimes got punished and he does go on to try and become a better person and changes his racist ways.
The entire Inquisitorial Squad in Order of the Phoenix suffers Amusing Injuries, but they don't receive any punishment for acting like Umbridge's Secret Police and engaging in active torture. In fact, their points removal last through the end of the year so that McGonagall has to add points for Snape to want to deduct.
The Aurors that sent McGonagall to the hospital with their Stunners still have their jobs.
Romilda Vane gives Harry a box of sweets spiked with love potion in Half-Blood Prince (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. Love potions are also one of the few dangerous things that Dumbledore has had the good sense to forbid. Which doesn't stop the Weasley twins from smuggling them in. For which they are never punished, either.
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.
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.
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.
In Tricks and Treats, Henry is grounded on Halloween for cutting off almost all of his brother's hair, then proceeds to sneak out in disguise and scare all the other kids out of their treats. He makes it back to his room before his parents can find out he snuck out and on top of that his brother gives him another bag of treats to make up for him supposedly missing out on trick-or-treating.
In Les Misérables the evil Thenardier not only goes free, but uses 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.
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.
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.
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.
In I Favor The Villainess, Lambert Orso is found unquestionably guilty of attempted mass murder, stirring civil unrest, and an incestuous relationship with his sister, to boot; his plans would have succeeded if not for the intervention of the protagonist, Rei. However, Rei is also responsible for keeping them from getting executed, and helping him and his sister rebuild their lives in another country, as lovers. It's implied they're doing very well for themselves.
Rosalind in the Tana French novel In the Woods poisons her younger sisters Katy and Jessica in order to make them sick. When Katy finally wises up and stops eating anything Rosalind gives her, Rosalind arranges for Katy 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.
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.
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.
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 Errant in the Malazan Book of the Fallen doesn't get any comeuppance in the main series, nor the prequel, despite being responsible for plenty of suffering on all fronts — not least of all his bid to destroy the world.
At the end of Roald Dahl's Matilda, Harry Wormwood prepares to flee the police who are onto him and his crooked car business, but there's no sign of him or his wife getting any comeuppance for their abuse of Matilda.
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!.
Zack State, the central character of The Mental State, has a talent for wriggling his way out of any situation. Apart from his first offence, he is never punished for any of the crimes he commits while in prison, including theft, blackmail, smuggling, arson, hacking, poisoning, and framing someone. He even manages to swing an early release thanks to good conduct and survives the whole ordeal with little more than a slight bruise that could have been a hundred times worse.
Anton Chigurh from 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.
Double Subversion in Midnights Children. Shiva sells out the titular group to the Widow, and personally captures Saleem himself. He's also implied to have murdered an awful lot of people. He does get castrated along with the other midnight's children, but otherwise gets off scot-free...until one of his mistresses returns to shoot him through the heart. Except not; less than two pages later Saleem reveals that Shiva is still at large, and he's so terrified that Shiva will find him that he made up the story for peace of mind. Greater-Scope Villain Indira Gandhi also returns to power after a Hope Spot where she loses the 1977 election. (In Real Life, she was later assassinated, but the book was published three years before that event took place.)
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.
Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens. He does eventually end up imprisoned, but for debt, and not for murdering Lord Verisopht.
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.
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.
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.)
The Olympian Gods from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus are stated outright to be no better than the Titans, the latter of which create their army from the demigods, mortal spirits, and minor gods abused by the twelve main ones. A river god in the second series notes major Olympians are rarely punished for their crimes. The worst is Zeus whose pride and breaking of sacred oaths creates most of the problems in both series, but uses his power and position to either not suffer any consequences or force them on others. The worst that happens is the twelve main ones are humiliated a couple of times and have to promise to treat others better. Several promises they break outright and no one trusts them to keep the other ones in the long-term.
Rabble thinks so with Norman after he throws a rock that sends Mille Bellows to the hospital. Only Rabble and Veronica knew he threw the rock, but when they get him to help Millie as a form of punishment, Veronica convinces him to do it for other reasons (including the fact that he has a crush on Veronica). Eventually, Rabble lets him know they know he threw the rock and that he should understand he did wrong to hit a ninety-something-year-old women with a rock, even if accidentally.
Isabel from The Razor's Edge is a bit of an egregious example; 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.
In Reamde, a Chinese hacker named Marlon and his friends write a ransomware virus that's spread through the popular MMORPG T'Rain demanding payment in return for Marlon releasing the victim's files, which starts the whole mess. At the end of the novel, he cashes in his $2 million and retires. Anyone, who has ever fallen victim to such an attack, would justifiably feel angry at this.
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.
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.
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.
Count Olaf beats 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.
Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the fix-it-up chappie from 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.
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 the opposite of Disproportionate Retribution.) Many readers hope he's to get his in future books as he sure deserves it.
The title character 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.
A Study in Scarlet: The killer's accomplice sends Holmes on the wrong path, and disposes of evidence, and his identity is never even revealed.
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.
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.
In The Spirit Thief, Sara ultimately vanishes, despite all the pain and torture she inflicted on spirits and her manipulation of people around her. While it's mentioned that river spirits hate her now and will drown her at first opportunity, her ex-husband is determined to rescue her out of sense of honor. Between that and her own cunning, she'll probably escape almost unscathed.
An American ship captain in Harry Harrison's Stars And Stripes ForeverAlternate 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.
Steve Stirling's notorious dystopia the Domination of the Draka wins at the end of The Stone Dogs.
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. When the party members point out this trope, the group healer states that his alcoholism is so far gone he will die an extremely painful death of liver failure in six months, tops, without any of them having to lift a finger.
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.
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 Muppetsadaptation 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.
In any 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 in the Timeline-191 storyline, How Few Remain on. This is with Kimball being revealed as the one who sunk the destroyer USS Ericsson after the WW1 Armistice was announced. The US government doesn't do anything, and then the widow of one of the Ericsson's crew comes down and puts enough lead in his chest to make damn sure he wasn't getting up. If her escape is a Karma Houdini...
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 unsavory 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 Word of God is that a Cullen victory would have been Pyrrhic. Meyer: "I'm not the kind of person who writes a Hamlet ending. If the fight had happened, it would have ended with 90% of the combatants, Cullen and Volturi alike, destroyed. There was simply no other outcome once the fight got started, given the abilities and numbers of the opposing sides. Because I would never finish Bella's story on such a downer — Everybody dies! — I knew that the real battle would be mental. It was a game of maneuvering, with the champion winning not by destroying the other side, but by being able to walk away." Of course, it was Meyer who created the situation in which that was true; if she'd wanted, she could have written in more allies or had the neutral vampires who were watching join in. So letting the Volturi walk is still on her.
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.
In Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Solya is envious of the Sarkan's position as most powerful wizard in Polnya and chooses to believe that Sarkan is playing politics when Sarkan's only goal is to protect the country from the malevolent Wood on its border. Solya manipulates Sarkan and his student, The Protagonist Agnieszka, and allies himself with the Fearless Fool Prince Marek. The pair eventually bring half of Polnya's army to assault Sarkan's tower, which is defended by the other half, leaving the whole shattered at a time when their neighbor Rosya is getting aggressive. After the whole thing is revealed to be a Batman Gambit by the Wood, Solya gives some help to Sarkan and Agnieszka (who are too shellshocked and exhausted to chew him out) and then limps home to the capital to go unpunished even though he was acting voluntarily rather than through the Wood's corruption.
In Utopia 58, Ellie reveals that she's the Father, and that she was manipulating Kay into revealing the locations of rebel hideouts so she could secretly send the White Army to attack them. In the process of doing so, she succeeded in capturing or killing hundreds of rebels and other enemies of Isonomia. The book ends with Kay getting stoned to death, while Ellie is free to continue ruling over the eponymous utopia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blackstar 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.
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 - 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.
Whacked: The main character in the novel by Jules Asner fits the bill, big time.
In When Demons Walk the eponymous demon gets back to its homeworld, without any occasion for the protagonist to take revenge for the murder of her mentor. Everyone is glad to be rid of the demon, so it is not much of a concern.