An excerpt from Mrs Mort’s Madness by Suzanne Falkiner

It was the white cockatoo that first led them to the murder, they told me. Or was it the mis-delivered parcel?

I had knocked at their door once before, but the small cottage in the northern Sydney suburb of Lindfield was unwilling to give up its secrets. I had no idea who lived there now, and with a change of street name in the intervening years, I was not even certain I had the right address.

Beyond a cascade of silver North Shore commuters’ cars flowing homeward on Tryon Road, I found some disused-looking stone steps, a rusted gate overgrown with shrubs, and a concrete path winding steeply upward. I hesitated at first, unsure of my welcome. Dark blue hydrangeas and drooping palms lent the garden an air of somnolence in the late afternoon, almost of other-worldliness, and so I was not surprised when the old-fashioned electric door bell sounded emptily in the interior and no one responded.

An even narrower path led around the side, but my imagination was already at work and I did not want to be challenged for trespassing. I retreated to my car and made a rough sketch in my notebook: a classic pre-war double-fronted Californian bungalow built on damp sandstone foundations, with a small covered porch and a miniature verandah to the right, its original wooden half-shingles and white-painted timber trim all still intact. Then I walked around by the main road to Owen Street at the back, where my snooping over the fence revealed a more ordinary modern extension and garage. I lingered too long, and a dog began to bark.

When I tried again some weeks later, a teenage girl came to the door and silenced the  barking dog to tell me her parents were not at home. I gave her my telephone number. Perhaps they would call me? Research, I said, for a biography. Someone of interest had once lived in the house. I would like to talk to them, and perhaps even to see inside, if they were willing.

Shortly after, sitting on a rose chintz sofa in a drawing room pleasantly cluttered with English porcelain and framed family photographs, I told them what I knew. The house had been called ‘Ingelbrae’ in the early part of the last century and someone had been murdered here, in this very room. The murderer, a Mrs Mort, had shot her doctor as he sat on her sofa writing a prescription. She was thought to be mad, I added, but I was not so sure.

A Xoum Publication.
    Suzanne Falkiner

    Suzanne Falkiner is the author of twelve books of fiction and non-fiction. Her most recent titles include the biographies Joan in India (2008), The Imago: E. L. Grant Watson & Australia (2011), Mrs Mort’s Madness (2014) and Mick: A life of Randolph Stow (2016). She has been shortlisted in the Vogel Award, the Kibble Award, the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, and the NSW History Awards. Suzanne lives in Sydney.

    www.suzannefalkiner.com