The Best Laid Plans of Amateur Detectives NOT going awry?(may contain spoilers)

So anyway, I recently read a couple of books by Lyndon Stacey–billed on the cover as “takes Dick Francis to the next dimension”. (My vote: the books aren’t bad, but if your in the mood for Dick Francis, stick with Dick Francis. Just because it’s a thriller with racehorses doesn’t mean it has the same feel).

In both of them, and I’m treating this as not being a spoiler because it’s part of a formula, near the end of the book, our hero sets up a confrontation with someone, while wearing a wire. Things go downhill from there, and the hero fears for his life. But reinforcements show up in the nick of time, then there are a few “putting the pieces together” scenes, and maybe a scene that hints at happily ever after. The End.

But while I was being irked by the predictable nature of the confrontation, I wondered, are there any books where a final showdown is staged where things don’t go wrong? (Movies will be accepted as well).

Nero Wolfe prevails in all the novels featuring him. I don’t recall any final showdowns in which things don’t go Wolfe’s way. --Although sometimes our narrator (Archie Goodwin) doesn’t know what Wolfe has planned, which adds tension.

Does TV count? Veronica Mars has successfully worked numerous plans of various level of complexity. Sometimes we as viewers know about them and sometimes not.

I’m not sure whether this is exactly what you’re looking for, but when I was a child watching Scooby Doo, I noticed the following rule:

Near the end of many episodes, our heroes would put together a scheme to catch the villain. If someone (usually Fred) explained ahead of time what exactly was supposed to happen, invariably something would go wrong. (“Looks like danger-prone Daphne’s done it again!”) But if we, the viewers, weren’t told ahead of time how the plan was supposed to work, it would go off as planned.

While the rule isn’t guaranteed to work in non-Scooby-Doo contexts, I think it’s a pretty good guideline. You’re either going to be told ahead of time how an elaborate plan is supposed to work, or you’re going to see it actually working, but not both, because presumably that would be redundant and boring, if exactly what you expect to happen is what actually does happen.

Lord Peter Wimsey pretty much always has everything go his way, although sometimes he’s been led astray by evidence. You know if that’s happened if it looks like things are going to be resolved but half the book is still in your right hand. He set up confrontations in at least Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night that I can recall and had it go according to plan.

Stephanie Plum always fucks it up, but I guess that’s her schtick.

Edit - Thudlow Boink is correct, however - when it goes right it’s always a surprise to the audience as well as to the suspect.

Some of the original (first season) Mission: Impossible shows (with Stephen Hill) had episodes where everything went according to plan. The suspense came because they were almost caught, or there was something that nearly messed up their timing.

/hijack/ Zsofia: are you SD’er who put me onto the Lord Peter Whimsy books? Someone here on the dope did. I tried to read them about a year ago and couldn’t get into them. Picked them up in the last couple of weeks and, woohoo, one right after the other. /hijack/

Could be - I had a little thread on them a little while ago. Aren’t they tasty?

Andrew Vachss’ novels generally have it that the characters will fail any caper that occurs in a flashback, but any plans laid in the storyline’s present time will succeed.

Not always though.

I’m not sure if this is quite what you want, but in the sci-fi novel The Digital Effect by Steve Perry, the final confrontation does go wrong - but for the villains, who are the ones who set it up. The protagonist, an artist/martial artist/amateur detective named Gil Sivart, didn’t intend for there to be a final confrontation, just a handover of the evidence to a trustworthy cop. His response when one happened anyway worked out rather well.


Nero Wolfe is on my list of “I’ve heard so much about X, that I really ought to read some, sometime”. Maybe I’ll move it up.


Sure, TV can count. It isn’t likely I’ll watch something on TV just because of this thread, but if including TV enriches discussion, it’s all good.

Thudlow Boink,

No, not what I had in mind, but a good principle nonetheless. The more you know what’s supposed to happen, the less likely it is to work according to plan.


I have read and enjoyed Lord Peter Wimsey’s experiences before, but perhaps I shall have to reread a couple.

Sage Rat,

Hmm, I’m not sure I noticed that when I was reading Vachss’s novels. Nope, not going to reread him to see if it’s true. (I enjoyed his characters and their interactions with each other most of the time, but I found the universe he created depressing, and am unenthusiastic about re-entering it.)

Der Trihs,

Not what I was thinking of, but you’ve intrigued me. Might have to see if I can find a copy of the book in question.

Tried to post this yesterday but something crapped out. I blame gay marriage.

Haven’t read the books but the Thin Man film series generally ends with a gathering of the suspects and final confrontation that goes according to Nick Charles’ plan. Often at an elegant setting. The first one ends at a dinner party with the table populated by piss-elegant society types and lowlife thugs in alternate seats, with burly uncouth cops done up as waiters and busboys. Hilarious.

Will move The Thin Man up my list of old movies to view sometime when I think about it.