Jody Baker: Dr. Sterndale And The Naive Detective

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - by Jody Baker

Sometimes Sherlock Holmes was a bit naive. It wasn't hard for people to put one over on him. A person could jest -- or mislead -- or poke fun--- and it would pass right over his head. Take Dr. Leon Sterndale, for instance, in The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot. He was the great African explorer (and lion hunter) who explained devil's foot root to Holmes and described it thus: "The root is shaped like a foot, half human, half goatlike; hence the fanciful name given by a botanical missionary." 

We can be sure that Sterndale said this with a strait face -- but smiling to himself all the while. It's easy to say "a foot half-human and half-goatlike,"but have you ever tried to imagine what such an anatomical configuration would look like?

Does it have a cloven hoof with five toes sticking out the end of it? Or is it a foot split down the middle with toes to the right and a horned casing to the left? If it's a foot of some other configuration, which half is goat and what part is human? 

The devil may be half-goat and half-human. But his foot?  Now, come on Sterndale, you're going to have to do better than that if you want to get away with murder!

Insp. Baynes

(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at

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