Taking cues from a pulp novel, Dortmunder arranges a kidnapping.
Kelp has a plan, and John Dortmunder knows that means trouble. His friend Kelp is a jinx, and his schemes, no matter how well intentioned, tend to spiral quickly out of control. But this one, Kelp swears, is airtight. He read it in a book. In county lock-up for a traffic charge, Kelp came across a library of trashy novels by an author named Richard Stark. The hero is a thief named Parker whose plans, unlike Kelp and Dortmunder's, always work out. In one, Parker orchestrates a kidnapping so brilliant that, Kelp thinks, it would have to work in real life. Though offended that his usual role as planner has been usurped, Dortmunder agrees to try using the novel as a blueprint. Unfortunately, what's simple on the page turns complex in real life, and there is no book to guide him through the madness he's signed on for.