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M. Hercule Flambeau is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton, who appears in 48 short stories about the character Father Brown. A master criminal, his surname "Flambeau" is an alias, the French word for a flaming torch.
He first appeared in the story "The Blue Cross" as a jewel thief. Father Brown foiled his attempted crimes in this and several other stories. As a notorious and elusive criminal, Flambeau is a worry for law-enforcers. He is exposed by Father Brown, and later becomes a detective himself. His last appearance as a thief occurs in "The Flying Stars", in which Father Brown persuades him to return his loot and to give up the criminal life. As a reformed criminal, Flambeau assists Father Brown in a number of other short stories, beginning with "The Invisible Man".
Although Brown and Flambeau spend much of the day together in "The Blue Cross", when they meet again in "The Queer Feet", Brown recognizes Flambeau but the thief has no recollection of the priest.
In the "Judgement of Man" Flambeau attempts to steal a priceless painting from a museum to ruin the curator; a war criminal who betrayed the family of Flambeau's love Rebecca to the Gestapo. Father Brown deduces that Flambeau's inability to save Rebecca and her family; at a time before his criminal career drove him to become emotionally withdrawn and cynical.
Flambeau is an idiosyncratic character. Conventional detective fiction[weasel words] often splits humanity into the "good" and the "bad",[original research?] but the priest sees things in a more graduated light, and considers the possibility of redemption. He becomes Flambeau's friend before he reforms him, and uses this friendship to transform him. In "The Secret of Flambeau", Flambeau credits Father Brown for his reformation when he says, "Have I not heard the sermons of the righteous? […] Do you think all that ever did anything but make me laugh? Only my friend told me that he knew exactly why I stole, and I have never stolen since."
Flambeau's fate is revealed in "The Secret of Father Brown". Retiring as a detective, he marries and settles in a Spanish castle, raises a large family and lives in a blissful state of domesticity. Flambeau gives up his assumed name and returns to using his birthname, Duroc.
- Online text of The Blue Cross
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