From Chesterton's Blue Cross, describing a detective's tactic when said detective finds himself without a clue as to the whereabouts of the criminal he's after:

In such cases he reckoned on the unforeseen. In such cases, when he could not follow the train of the reasonable, he coldly and carefully followed the train of the unreasonable. Instead of going to the right places--banks, police stations, rendezvous-- he systematically went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty house, turned down every cul de sac, went up every lane blocked with rubbish, went round every crescent that led him uselessly out of the way. He defended this crazy course quite logically. He said that if one had a clue this was the worst way; but if one had no clue at all it was the best, because there was just the chance that any oddity that caught the eye of the pursuer might be the same that had caught the eye of the pursued. Somewhere a man must begin, and it had better be just where another man might stop. Something about that flight of steps up to the shop, something about the quietude and quaintness of the restaurant, roused all the detective's rare romantic fancy and made him resolve to strike at random. He went up the steps, and sitting down at a table by the window, asked for a cup of black coffee.

The person described is a French police chief who is on a hunt after a notorious criminal. I get the gist of the passage on the whole, but the bolded phrase puzzles me.

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    I think that line is about the detective's thinking process. He had no clues (as you already know), so the least bad way, in his opinion, was to begin his investigation at the place where the culprit had possibly stopped (in other words, visited or stayed shortly). – Damkerng T. Aug 5 '14 at 15:41
  • This use of "might stop" is what propably disoriented me, because there is no time markings to see that the first mans's beginning comes after another man's stopping. – CowperKettle Aug 5 '14 at 15:47
  • The time marking you're looking for is the "it" of "it had better be": Somewhere a man must begin, and it (The place where a man begins looking for clues) is better (for clue-finding) if it happens to be just where another man might stop (because of something interesting). – Hellion Aug 5 '14 at 15:50
  • Could we use "where another man might've stopped before", or that would change the meaning? – CowperKettle Aug 5 '14 at 15:56
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    "Before" seems to add a time constraint that is not present in the original. – GalacticCowboy Aug 5 '14 at 16:02

The situation is one where the detective has "no clue at all", because all of the reasonable men had not found clues in the metaphorical "space" they were investigating. In other words, the metaphorical "other man" had stopped his search at a reasonable point, without getting any results.

The detective wants to be as effective as possible in this situation. He must begin somewhere. If he starts before where other men stopped, he will duplicate fruitless work. If he starts up after they stopped, he might leave a gap (in "space" that conventionally would have almost a reasonable chance of having a clue). If he begins where other men stop, he is most likely to be successful (given this situation).

The expression "where another man might stop" implies that no particular person needs to have tried doing the conventional research already. Instead, the detective can make a guess at the sort of things a hypothetical "other man" might check, and tentatively skip them.

  • Could it be that the another man is the culprit, as @Damkerng T. suggested? – CowperKettle Aug 6 '14 at 2:12
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    That is a completely different way of looking at it, and seems equally valid to me. The best turns of phrase have multiple (valid) meanings. Damkeng's interpretation uses more literal meanings of "where", "another man", and "stop". – Jasper Aug 6 '14 at 4:44

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