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.