IN October, 2015, the writer Henning Mankell passed away from cancer. He was known in the crime fiction world for his series of novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander, one of the earliest “Scandi-noir” series to break in the UK.

The books were highly regarded for their social themes and engagement. Mankell was not an author who merely set out to tell the story of a criminal investigation. His obsessions and thoughts ran much deeper, as his posthumous collection of essays, Quicksand (Harvill Secker, £18.99) shows.

There is no crime in Quicksand. There is no mention of Wallander. Instead, the essays begin with reflection on the traffic accident that led to Mankell’s cancer diagnosis, and from there, takes a whistle-stop tour through the incidents and concerns of the author’s life, as he tries to find some idea of meaning and connection. Quicksand is no howl of rage into the void, but a gentle and affecting meditation on what life and art might mean. Mankell also considers his own evolution as a human being, unafraid to criticise his younger self, particularly in dealings with the opposite sex.

The book covers topics as varied as how future archaeologists will deal with the signs and symbols that so many of us today take for granted, the hypocrisy of nuclear power and what it means to be truly afraid. Sympathetically translated by Laurie Thompson with Marlaine Delargy, this intriguing book might be the closest we ever come to the autobiography of an author whose writing struck a chord with readers across the world.

If all of that proves heavy going, then some energetic relief might be had by diving into Joe R Lansdale’s Honky Tonk Samurai (Mulholland, £13.99), the latest novel to feature odd-couple detective duo Hap (A redneck rebel with a heart of gold) and Leonard (a black, gay, Vietnam vet). For those new to Lansdale’s brand of crime fiction, he might best be described as the Texan equivalent to our own Christopher Brookmyre, and the Hap and Leonard novels have proved popular enough in the US that a major TV adaptation is on the way.

In the duo’s latest outing after a five-year gap, Hap and Leonard help an old woman look for her granddaughter. What starts off as a standard investigation leads to a shady local business, and a huge cover-up. So far, so typical. But this is Lansdale country, and soon enough Hap and Leonard are dealing with a dog named Buffy the Biscuit Slayer (her Sunday name, of course), ageing prostitutes with their own unique brand of humour and a Hillbilly clan who may just be the country’s most dangerous, and perverse, hired killers.

Lansdale mixes occasionally scatological, but always laugh-out-loud, humour with an oddly affecting poignancy. Hap and Leonard, who banter like the proverbial old married couple, are far more rounded than their initial appearance might suggest, and subplots like Hap’s probable daughter suddenly appearing on his doorstep bring recognisable humanity to outlandish situations.

Honky Tonk Samurai is a rollicking pulp thriller, with a surprisingly warm and empathetic core. If you haven’t read Lansdale before, he’s definitely worth a look. If you have, well, you probably won’t even have bothered to read this review. You’ll have your copy already.

Rounding out this month’s international theme is Chinese thriller, French Concession (Point Blank, £14.99) by Xiao Bai. The author of one previous novel, and a collection of essays, this is Bai’s first translation into English. A tale of espionage, desire and intrigue amidst the shadowy streets of Shanghai in 1931, the book tells of a photographer by the name of Hsueh, whose desire for two very different women lands him in to hot water. and forces him to collaborate with the police in the French Concession of the city.

Inspired by real-life events, but very much a work of fiction, the book is littered with convincing period detail and a real sense of its cast’s own conflicted psychologies and loyalties. The translation by Chenxin Jiang is breathtakingly natural, and deserves high praise. But the story itself, with its cast of spies, diplomats, revolutionaries and criminals, is the high point here. There is, perhaps, a touch of Graham Greene’s espionage novels, lending the book a timeless feel. Hsueh, with his love of images and his love of women, is a brilliant lead, and his descent into paranoia is well executed.

I’m not sure that the hand-drawn maps of some of the scenes of meetings and double-crosses add anything to the text, but it’s a small complaint in what is an undoubtedly an intelligent, engaging and occasionally beautiful novel.