M. Hercule Flambeau is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton who appears in the five volumes of in total 48 short stories, of the Father Brown series. His name is 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 early on, and perhaps as a result becomes a detective himself. His last appearance as a thief occurs in The Flying Stars, where 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 two stories later in The Queer Feet, Brown recognizes Flambeau but the other shows no recollection of him.
Flambeau is an idiosyncratic character. Conventional detective fiction often splits humanity into the "good" and the "bad", but the priest Father Brown sees things in a more graduated light, and considers the possibility of redemption. He becomes Flambeau's friend before he reforms him, and this is partially how he reforms him. Flambeau, in The Secret of 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 eventual fate is revealed in The Secret of Father Brown. Having retired from both his former professions as first a thief, then a detective, he married and settled in a Spanish castle, raising a large family and living in a blissful state of domesticity. By this time, Flambeau had given up his assumed non de plume of 'the torch', returning to his original surname, Duroc.
- Online text of The Blue Cross
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