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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Where are they now?

Most true crime TV tends toward the lurid, the sensational, the gory, the depraved.  So Netflix’s new documentary series, This is a Robbery, comes as a breath of fresh air to the genre.  Their cold case?  A 1991 unsolved art heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

You may be familiar with the case—the night after St. Patrick’s Day, men wearing police uniforms hustled their way into one of Boston’s most beautiful museums and hustled their way out again 81 minutes later with thirteen irreplaceable (and uninsured) works of art, including Rembrandt’s only seascape, also a Vermeer, a Manet, five Degat works, and two other Rembrandts, worth a total estimated value of $500,000,000.  Yes, five hundred million.  The Gardner Museum made the gutsy decision to continue displaying the emptied frames in the gallery, where they still hang, 30 years later.

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Four hour-long episodes feature interviews with key players in the case’s long history, including the newly-minted museum director (just six months on the job at the time of the robbery), a young security guard, journalists who covered the story over the years, investigators from the local to the FBI, and major suspects.  The material is sometimes repetitive (eventually straight-to-Netflix producers will realize that recaps are extraneous in the world of binge watching), and the many twists and turns (Was it an inside job? The IRA? The mafia? This woman’s brother-in-law?) could probably have been covered in just two hours—but the suspense does build along the way.  Knowing the case is unsolved does not diminish the fascination of watching the investigation unfold.

This is a Robbery is perfect for fans of the often heist-related TV dramas Leverage and White Collar and makes for easy and (totally unscary) late-night true crime viewing.  It’s streaming now on Netflix.