The Third Twin

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For the French house music duo, see The Third Twin (duo).
First edition

The Third Twin is a techno-thriller by the British writer Ken Follett and published by Random House publications in 1996. A New York Times bestseller, the book deals with genetic engineering and the nature and nurture debate through the subject of identical twins raised apart.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Jeannie Ferrami, Psy.D., is an associate professor and criminality researcher at the fictional Jones Falls University, an Ivy League school in Baltimore, Maryland.[2] She studies the influence of genetics (rather than upbringing) on personality, and if her interest in criminal tendencies is influenced by the fact that her father, Pete, is an incarcerated burglar. Her finances are strained, forcing her to send her Alzheimer's-afflicted mother to live in a sub-par nursing home.

Jeannie and her friend Lisa Hoxton hastily evacuate an on-campus locker room during an apparent fire, and Lisa is raped amid the chaos. The police determine that the perpetrator pumped smoke into the locker room; the attack was the work of a serial rapist. Lisa works with sympathetic police Lt. Michelle Delaware to create a facial composite of the suspect. Jeannie later meets Steven Logan, a young law student who is a subject of her study, and they become attracted to each other. She informs him that her software, which finds links in raw data from medical records, has identified him as the twin of Dennis Pinker, a murderer sentenced to life in prison. Steve is troubled, because this seems to confirm his fears that he is unable to control his own violent impulses; he once beat a man nearly to death for damaging his new leather jacket. Berrington "Berry" Jones, a prominent researcher at JFU, is shocked when he sees Steve. He contacts his two partners in Genetico, Inc.,[3] a medical research company that heavily funds JFU; Jones, Preston Barck, and United States Senator Jim Proust are racist and classist, and apparently believe that the involvement of Steve and Pinker in the study will jeopardize Genetico's $180 million sale to international conglomerate Landsmann, and with it Proust's presidential campaign. Berry disrupts Jeannie's research by alerting the press to the legitimate ethical issues of her software. Soon after, Steve is arrested for Lisa's rape and Lisa picks him out of a lineup, but Jeannie believes his claims of innocence. Steve is released on bail after two days.

Jeannie and Lisa visit Pinker in jail, confirming that he is identical to Steve. They also discover that he had no twin at birth, and was born two weeks after Steve and in a different state. Jeannie learns that both men's fathers were in the military when the couples sought fertility treatments at the Aventine Clinic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She visits the clinic and finds out that it was founded by Genetico in 1972 as a research center for in vitro fertilization. She then narrowly escapes an attack by the rapist, whom she mistakes for Steve. Returning to Baltimore, she encounters Steve and is relieved to learn that her neighbor saw him there two hours earlier, confirming that the rapist was the titular "third twin." The identical men are clones, illegally implanted into women treated at Aventine. A friend of Jeannie's runs her search engine on an FBI database, but Berry has forced the issue of Jeannie's research ethics; she will be unable to retrieve the search results from her office unless she keeps her job in a discipline-committee hearing. Steve provides a very competent defense, but Berry has bribed two committee members and Jeannie is fired. However, Pete has been released from prison for good behavior; he helps Jeannie break into her office and they get the data.

Jeannie travels to New York City with Lt. Delaware to meet Wayne Stattner, a man identified by the search. He proves to be yet a fourth twin; although it's apparent Stattner is a sadist, he has an airtight alibi for Lisa's rape. Jeannie learns from Steve's father, Col. Charles Logan, that the motivation for the cloning was a "super-soldier" program; Steve is shaken to learn that he was literally bred to be a killer. Col. Logan runs Jeannie's search on The Pentagon's computers and provides her with five more names; one man is dead and another in jail, but Jeannie and Lisa investigate the other three: Henry King, George Dassault, and Harvey Jones. Ultimately, they find evidence in Harvey Jones' Philadelphia apartment that he is the rapist. Harvey is Berry's son, and Berry sends him to spy on Jeannie by pretending to be Steve. However, Jeannie realizes he is an imposter, and Harvey is subdued after the real Steve arrives. Jeannie, Lisa, and Steve decide to crash the press conference where Landsmann's purchase of Genetico will be announced. Steve, posing as Harvey, goes to spy on Berry, but Berry discovers the ruse, locks Steve in a bathroom, and frees Harvey. Lisa brings King, Dassault, and Stattner to the press conference; Harvey is present and Steve also arrives, drawing the press's attention. Meanwhile, after much soul-searching, Steve realizes that his identity is determined by his own free will, and not by his genes or by the parents who raised him.

Nine months later, Jeannie and Steve prepare to take their honeymoon. Genetico and its founders have been discredited, Pete has started a profitable private security business, and Harvey is in prison. Jeannie has taken a lucrative position at Landsmann, and has moved her mother into a better facility.


A 1997 made-for-TV movie based on the book starred Kelly McGillis as Doctor Jean Ferrami and Jason Gedrick as Steve Logan, Harvey Jones, and the other clones.


  1. ^ "Best Sellers: Fiction Paperback". New York Times. 21 September 1997. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  2. ^ In his acknowledgments of people who helped his research for the book, Follet mentioned "Professor Trish VanZandt and her colleagues" at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, on which the fictional Jones Falls is evidently modeled.
  3. ^ In some editions of the book the company is called "Genetico"