THE THIRD TWIN
Dependable British thriller-factory Follett (A Place Called Freedom, 1995, etc.) continues his infatuation with all things American, this time with a contemporary, Baltimore-based page-turner about cloned kids. Six-foot-tall, passionately athletic, with a taste for toned-down punk fashion, Dr. Jeannie Farrari is, nevertheless, a typical headstrong professional whose work, research into identical twins raised apart, is first encouraged and then thwarted by her mentor, Berisford Jones--a sixtysomething, womanizing genetics professor, who also heads Genetico, a gene-splicing company that's about to be purchased by a European firm for $180 million. Jones and fellow Genetico shareholders stand to profit if only the Europeans don't discover a supersecret government cloning experiment Genetico pulled off back in the old days of the Nixon Administration. The results of that experiment, a failed attempt to breed the ultimate soldier, are still alive--handsome, identical, mostly antisocial 22-year-old (infinity)bermenschen ignorant of their unnatural origins. When a good clone, pre-law student Steve Logan, is mistakenly identified as a rapist, Jeannie puts her newfangled twin-spotting computer program to work. Hoping to stop her, Jones sics a fictitious New York Times "ethics reporter" on her, whose tritely unethical journalism compels the university to deprive Jeannie, a great teacher, of her job. Twisting the conventions of the woman-in-peril genre, Follett has his plucky heroine alternately menaced and romanced by clones good, bad, and homicidal. Along the way, he winks coyly at cops, lovers, and parents who fail to see beyond appearances. More meaningfully, he describes with extraordinary accuracy the frustrations that rape victims encounter when seeking justice. It all percolates to a heady climax as Jeannie and Logan jigger a Genetico press conference with guest appearances by you-know-who, and who, and who. . . . A slow starter whose sly plotting and rousing melodrama are dulled by Follett's bleached, lackluster prose and, for all their contrived eccentricities, his bleached, lackluster characters.