I was interested in The Search for Kindronium 379 because it was described as a teenage adventure story, along the lines of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Here’s the Amazon blurb:
An accidental fall down an ancient mine shaft leads to the discovery of a refugee scientist’s research diary that describes a new super element, Kindronium 379. Unfortunately, news of the discovery leaks to agents of the International Communist Workers party. The fight for possession of the document culminates in a gun battle within the confines of the old mine.
The premise of schoolkids stumbling on a scientific secret, hidden in the old mine, was so good! I was pretty excited to read this. But the actual novel was a blend of village novel and adventure story, both things I like, but an odd mix.
Throughout the book, the pacing was slightly off, swinging between suspenseful and meandering. We got multiple excuses when Gareth was going to skip practice or class (Don’t worry, Gareth! It’s OK to skip football practice once if you’re solving an international mystery!), and secondary (or tertiary?) characters would appear with a long description of their background, and then wander off, never to be seen again. While poor Gareth was down a mineshaft, we got a meditation on Viktor’s feelings about tea. None of it was uninteresting — actually, I wanted to see more of these minor characters or hear more about life at their school — but the pacing varied from Welsh village story to action-adventure.
Women exist in this world, but mostly as passing mentions as annoyances. Girls are interested in handsome Viktor so Gareth decides to go caving to get away from them, no girls are taking the hard sciences so beloved teacher Togi doesn’t have to be “gentle” in his teaching, etc., etc. Moms and farmwives offer tea to the protagonists sometimes. The Search For Kindronium 379 is hardly the first time I’ve read an adventure story without any female characters, and it probably won’t be the last, unfortunately.
The adventure itself was engaging, with the boys getting lost while spelunking, finding a mysterious old journal, one of them falls down a mineshaft, and of course the evil communists come to steal secrets. It made me think of (all-male) Trixie Belden adventures. Anyway, cave adventures, from Colossal Cave to that part in Tom Sawyer, are always really interesting. And scary. I also enjoyed the attention to historical detail in the novel.