Richard Kurti is the author of the Basilica Diaries Medieval Mysteries series: historical thrillers set in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Rome and featuring a brother and sister investigative duo.

Donato Bramante (1444-1514) was the brilliant architect who designed St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and oversaw the initial stages of construction. If you could put him in a time machine, bring him forward five hundred years, and lay out the current problems of the HS2 railway line before him, I doubt he would be very surprised. Bramante discovered the hard way that huge, ambitious construction projects that test the limits of technology always run into the same dilemmas and have the same questions hanging over them:

Why build it at all?

Isn’t the existing structure good enough?

What philosophy should drive the new project?

How can you prevent the costs ballooning out of control?

Will the public lose interest and turn against you?

How will you cope with unforeseen complications?

How will you prevent corrupt builders skimming off vast sums for their own personal enrichment?

Take a moment to think about building something like St Peter’s without the use of computers, high-powered machinery or sophisticated scientific instruments. It took one hundred and twenty years, and Bramante was long dead by the time it was completed, but its construction was still a lot quicker than Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, or York Minster. And once built, these cathedrals have stood the test of time. How many railway lines will still be operating half a millennia after they were constructed?

The triumph of this superhuman achievement inspired me to write a series of novels centred on the construction of St Peter’s. Each murder mystery swirls around a different theme linked to the vast building project. Omens of Death explores the morality of building St Peter’s in the first place; Palette of Blood focuses on the vicious battle between artists competing to design it; and the newest book, Demon of Truth, shows what happens when you make a catastrophic discovery mid-construction.

Although the novels are fictional thrillers, I spent a lot of time doing research to find elements that grounded the stories in the sixteenth century, but also resonated with the dilemmas of the modern world.

So, the next time you find yourself on a rail replacement bus service, why not download some Basilica Diaries to while away the time?

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