The Third Twin

The Third Twin

"The Third Twin" is a suspense thriller authored by the British writer Ken Follett and published by Random House publications in 1996. A "New York Times" bestseller, the book deals genetic engineering and the Nature vs. Nurture debate through the subject of identical twins raised apart.

Plot summary

Jeannie Ferrami, Psy.D., is a newly-hired associate professor at the fictional Jones Falls University in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a criminality researcher and is attempting to isolate the influence of genes in personality, as opposed to upbringing; her interest in criminal tendencies may be due to her father, a professional burglar who, at the start of the novel, is serving out a fifteen-year prison sentence. Her financial conditions have also been recently strained; as the novel opens, she checks her Alzheimer's-afflicted mother into a shabby nursing home, which is all she and her sister Patty can afford.

Jeannie, a talented tennis player, is unwinding after a match in the university gym when the smell of smoke is detected. Convinced it is a full-blown fire, she and the other occupants scurry out in various states of undress; in the process, she loses track of her friend Lisa Hoxton. Diving back into the building, Jeannie finds Lisa in a back room, having been raped by a man wearing a red baseball cap bearing the word "Security." Lisa receives no pity from the hospital staff and police officers assigned to the situation. The next morning they are attended by Lt. Michelle Delaware of the Sex Crimes Unit, a far-more-sympathetic woman who walks Lisa through the process of creating a facial composite of the suspect. She also explains that the fire was a set-up: just a bit of smoke to cause a panic. The perpetrator was not an opportunist, but a planner and a sociopath; a serial rapist.

While they do so, Jeannie heads to the university to continue her study. She meets Steven Logan, a young man who flirted with her after her tennis match. He is handsome, charming, in his first year of law school, and only 23; despite the age difference, sparks fly. However, Steve was unaware that he was a twin, which is a vindication of Jeannie's recruitment system: she designed software to isolate possible identical twins raised apart by comparing the raw binary code of ECGs, dental X-rays, fingerprints and so on. Steven is the twin of Dennis Pinker, a man who is serving a life sentence for murder. This troubles Steve: as a teenager, he was provoked to rage by damage to a newly-purchased leather jacket, and beat the offender almost to death. He has always suspected that he has murderous impulses, and the existence of his twin confirms it.

While Jeannie carries out the study, she and Steve are visited by Berrington Jones, famed researcher, professor at Jones Falls, and one of three owners of Genetico, a medical research company that also provides a great deal of JFU's funding. Berry is shocked by the sight of Steve, and immediately calls up the other two Genetico owners, Preston Barck and United States Senator Jim Proust, to inform them of Logan's involvement. It is revealed that the firm's three founders are racist and classist, and that Genetico has secrets to hide, evidently pertaining to Steven Logan and Dennis Pinker. Furthermore, their futures are on the line: Genetico is being considered for purchase by international conglomerate Landsmann for the sum of $180 million, which (among other things) will finance Proust's presidential campaign. Berrington takes immediate action to prevent Jeannie from conducting further research, alerting the press to the possible (and real) ethical issues of her search engine. Shortly after, Steve is arrested by Lt. Delaware for the rape of Lisa Hoxton; Lisa later picks him out of the line-up, though Steve insists (and Jeannie believes) that he is innocent.

Steven suffers a torturous 48 hours in jail but is eventually released on bail of $200,000, offering as part of his conditions to stay away from Lisa Hoxton—though there might be complications, since he doesn't actually know what she looks like. At the same time, Jeannie is surprised by her father, who has just been released (six years early) for good behavior. The next day, she and Lisa visit Dennis Pinker in jail, confirming that he is, indeed, identical to Logan, but discovering (via interviews with him and his parents) that he had no twin brother given up for adoption, was born two weeks after Steve, and in a different hospital in a different "state". Steven's parents corroborate this claim. Jeannie realizes what has happened when both sets of parents confess that the fathers were in the military when the couples sought fertility treatments at the Aventine Clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From a pamphlet at the clinic, Jeannie discovers that Aventine Clinic was founded by Genetico in 1972 as a research center for in vitro fertilization. Shortly afterwards, she is approached by someone identical to Steve and Dennis. She mistakes him for Steve, and he attempts to rape her in her car.

Berrington has been busy protecting Genetico's secrets. When Jeannie meets Dr. Maurice Obell, president of JFU, concerning the ethics of her search program, spurred by an article in the "New York Times", he successfully manipulates them into arguing instead of compromising. He then convinces Obell to fire her, though she is entitled to a hearing by the college's discipline committee. Finally, he bribes two members of the committee to make sure Jeannie is fired.

When Jeannie arrives at her apartment in Baltimore, Steve is waiting for her. Her initial terror is calmed when her neighbor Mr. Oliver explains that Steve has been waiting there for two hours, making it impossible that he attacked her in Philadelphia. She then calls up Dennis Pinker's jail and confirms that he is still incarcerated. She and Steve realize the existence of the novel's titular "third twin," the man who attacked Jeannie in Philadelphia and, possibly, the man who raped Lisa. These cloned children were implanted, illegally, in Mrs. Logan's and Mrs. Pinker's wombs during their so-called fertility treatments. Even better, Jeannie has the means to discover how far the conspiracy goes: a friend of hers ran her search engine on the FBI's fingerprint database. Jeannie saves the data to a floppy disk, but before she can use it she is called in by Obell to be fired; by the time she returns, she has been locked out of her office. Her only hope is to win the hearing, with Steve serving as her lawyer. Unfortunately, though he does his best (and is complimented for his efforts by the lawyer representing the university), he is no match for a committee that has already made up its mind. Dr. Jean Ferrami is dismissed from her position at Jones Falls University.

However, Jeannie has one more resource: her father, Pete Ferrami. The father-and-daughter duo manage to break into the JFU psychology building and then her office, and make off with not only the floppy disk (which Jeannie, in a fit of paranoia, labeled shopping.lst) but a printout of its contents. Both Steve Logan and Dennis Pinker are linked to a third name, Wayne Stattner, who turns out to be a nightclub impresario in New York City. She and Lt. Delaware fly to there to meet him. His apartment shrieks of sadism, but his alibi is airtight: he was at the Emmy Awards presentation and was seen on national television. However, like Mr. Pinker and Mr. Logan, Wayne's father was in the military at the time of his conception, and his mother sought fertility treatments at Aventine. There are "four" twins... At least. Conversation with Steven's father, Col. Charles Logan, reveals the motivation: a Super-Soldier program, rumored to have been initiated by Nixon. This only further shakes Steven's faith in himself: he is genetically disposed to murder and risk-taking behavior, and his biological parents might be total strangers.

To further Jeannie's research, Col. Logan uploads her search program into The Pentagon's computers, and comes up with a total of eight names, which he smuggles to Steven just before he himself is arrested. Jeannie and Lisa use a nationwide CD-ROM phone book database to track down the remaining five. One, Per Erikson, is dead from a botched skiing stunt; one, Murray Claud, is in jail; one, Henry King, is still at large; George Dassault they are not ablt to reach at all; and the final one, Harvey Jones, they leave for last because of the number of Joneses in America. They find him in Philadelphia, and Jeannie drives down to investigate. Courtesy of a neighbor who has a spare key, Jeannie places the perpetrator due to the distinctive red "Security" baseball cap. The neighbor also informs her that Harvey often travels to Baltimore on Sundays...

Berrington Jones has been sinking to ever-lower straits. Though he had hoped that bribing the discipline committee would be the end of it, he now finds himself following Jeannie around in his car. It is his intervention, and Proust's, that gets Col. Logan arrested, but Steve still has that damning list of eight names, and Berry quickly confirms that Jeannie has been in contact with all of them. He then confronts Harvey, his son, who raped Lisa Hoxton and assaulted Jeannie in Philadelphia (Proust's idea, carried out without Berrington's knowledge or approval). Berrington sends Harvey to Jeannie: if he pretends to be Steve, he can find out just how much she knows and what she plans. Harvey plays through the situation quite successfully until he displays a behavioral tic Jeannie has seen Berrington use (smoothing his eyebrow with his forefinger); with the timely arrival of the real Steve, as well as the neighboring Mr. Oliver, Harvey is subdued.

Jeannie, Lisa and Steve decide on their course of action. Landsmann and Genetico are holding a joint press conference tomorrow, at which they intend to announce the purchase; Jeannie will crash the party with as many twins as she can interest in tow, and tell her side of the story. (Steve makes the approaches.) Furthermore, they turn Berrington's plan back on him: they send Steve, posing as Harvey, into the enemy camp. While Jeannie, Lisa and Mr. Oliver smuggle Harvey into the hotel, Steve plays through the situation quite successfully until the next morning, when he "fails" to display a behavioral tic (a family in-joke); Berrington locks him in a bathroom and liberates his son. Fortunately, Jeannie's recruitment scheme succeeds, and Lisa shows up with Hank King, George Dassault and Wayne Stattner, who combined with Steve and Harvey are enough to draw the attention of the press. Steve also comes to a conclusion about himself when he turns down propositions from Berrington's maid, whom Harvey has apparently blackmailed into sexual servitude; he thanks his parents for his upbringing, and his unknown progenitors for their genes, but realizes that, ultimately, it is his "choices" that define him.

The epilogue takes place during the next June (roughly nine months later). Jeannie and Steve are on their honeymoon, but first stop by the new rest home where Mrs. Ferrami lives for a re-cap. Berrington Jones, Preston Barck and Jim Proust have gone down in flames; Pete Ferrami has started a new and lucrative business providing security arrangements for people's homes; and Harvey Jones is serving five years for rape and arson.

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