David Casarett

David Casarett
The Missing Guests of the Magic Grove Hotel

Ladarat Patalung—possibly the world’s only nurse-ethicist-detective—is struggling to determine what constitutes a “good” death. At the hospital where she works in northern Thailand, have terminally ill patients received the support they need to face death peacefully and without pain? “We can always comfort, even when we can’t cure.”

Compassionate care for the dying is as relevant a topic here in Chiang Mai as in Chicago, where Ladarat underwent ethics training. Her verdict on the Windy City is unequivocal: “Extreme cold, rude people, and bland, salty food” (Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness).

Ladarat is assisted in her work by a therapy pooch named Chi, who clearly understands the importance of his “dogly duties.” Off leash, he heads straight for the room of Melissa Double, a cancer patient who has chosen to spend her final days far from her home in Wales. “Melissa scratched the spot behind Chi’s left ear that Ladarat has discovered after much trial and error was his favorite. She was amazed that Melissa had arrived at the same spot seemingly by instinct.”

Instinct plays a major role when Ladarat attempts to find out why visiting foreigners are vanishing from a quiet guesthouse outside the city. At the same time, her assistant believes she has stumbled on a jade smuggling ring and wants her to investigate. Ladarat’s plate is full, and not just with the savory grilled pork supplied by her favorite street-food vendor.

We learn from her about the many varieties of Thai smiles, which “follow a clear and almost rigid taxonomy” depending on their meaning. Casarett’s writing is alive with just such elegant cultural nuances, making his books a welcome return journey to Thailand for readers who already know the country, and a fascinating introduction for those who don’t.

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