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A TV mystery that's phony but fun

Mystery!: Brat Farrar PBS, tomorrow and two successive Thursdays, 9-10 p.m. Host: Vincent Price. Writer: James Andrew Hall from the novel by Josephine Tey. Stars Mark Greenstreet and Dominique Barnes. Director: Leonard Lewis. Producer: Terrance Dicks for BBC. Presented on PBS by WGBH/Boston. ``Brat Farrar'' is an improbable tale about an unbelievable impersonation, told with unbounded delight.

Such delight that you'll willingly accept every phony moment in order to continue to enjoy all three hours of this old-fashioned thriller.

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As our ubiquitous host, Vincent Price tells us, author Josephine Tey is a crime writer who appeals most to people who don't ordinarily read mystery stories. In ``Brat Farrar'' she tells a complex ``Rebecca''-like tale, with overtones of the biblical Jacob and Esau relationship. It's full of thrills and twists complicated by coincidence and illogic. It's a good, potboiling yarn as much as it is a good mystery.

Brat, an illegitimate orphan who resembles the deceased heir to a country estate, is persuaded to masquerade as the dead man in order to inherit the estate. He falls in love with the whole family, especially the girl who is supposed to be his sister.

He also suspects that the long-lost heir has been the victim of foul play. Well, the plot turns go on and on, none of them logical for a moment but all of them fun to accept until the next week.

I won't give away the ending, but I will warn you that it comes as a pleasant surprise - and is totally in character. And it's as unbelievable but charming as the rest of the story.

Mark Greenstreet plays both Brat, who has been working as a cowhand in Texas, and the surviving brother. Thus, it is quite right for him to slip in and out of an American accent. He's good in both roles and will have you wondering how some of the scenes in which both characters appear were shot.

Josephine Tey's novel is light on violence, heavy on concept. The only problem is that viewers must be willing to suspend all rational questions as to how the ruse could ever have hoped to succeed.

If you can manage that, ``Brat Farrar'' is a middle-of-the-road, easy-viewing hoot of a ``Mystery!''

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