In Jar City, the intellectual endeavour is science, both forensic medicine and the Icelandic national genetic research database; and the mode of the novel is a detective story. The winning factor is the portrayal of this small island society, where almost everyone knows almost everyone, but people still slip between the cracks and the genetic mapping project starts to uncover hidden history. Our detective hero is much more at home with ordinary criminals, and dealing with the fallout of his broken family, than with the scientists who seem an alien culture grafted onto Iceland's gritty foundations. It also features a character who is not gendered, which takes some linguistic manoeuvring in a society where most people take a gendered patronymic. In fact the plot once entangled is fairly straightforward, and the resolution (dare I say it) a little glib, but it was a jolly good read, and the image of a room full of jars containing various things that forensic scientists might be interested in (the "jar city" of the title) will linger with me longer than I wanted it to.
In The Shadow of the Wind, the intellectual endeavour is literature, and how a writer and his works became erased and maimed by love, religion, the Spanish civil war and the Franco regime. It's a much better book than Jar City, tracing family histories through generations, with recurrent themes of locked rooms and hidden knowledge, which is not always as good to find as you may think. Ruiz Zafón somehow catches the mood of Barcelona at different times in the twentieth century very well, particularly the stifling ideology of the Franco period. One point that is a little surprising is that the Catalan language is nowhere mentioned, though almost all the characters (one notable exception being the psychopathic police officer) have obviously Catalan names. I wonder if the author felt he needed to finesse that point for his Spanish audience?
Anyway, both recommended, though The Shadow of the Wind more so.