SCOTLAND'S top police officer met the nation's most feted crime writers for dinner in a bid to "reassure" them over changes to force that had left them "horrified" about the future of their characters.

Chief Constable Philip Gormley heard that the move to a unified police force has posed a literary "nightmare" for the authors amid claims specialist homicide detectives would be "parachuted in" from Major Investigation Teams (MIT) to spearhead murder probes to effectively relegate local sleuths like Ian Rankin's John Rebus to secondary roles.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Mr Rankin claimed that Mr Gormley had met a clutch of top crime writers for dinner to explain the changes within the force.

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"I shouldn't be telling you this, the Chief Constable did have quite a lot of crime writers in for a meeting," he told the audience.

"We said 'Look this is a nightmare,' and he said, 'Well, look this has all been done for the right reasons and I sure you can find a way round it' and 'It will freshen up the prose' and 'You must be getting jaded, Ian - surely you want to do something different'.

"So that's been a huge change, and trying to explain that to readers all over the world, for most of whom it is an inconvenience, trying to explain that has happened, without boring them with the detail of that, is quite tough."

Police Scotland say that the Chief Constable attended a "private social occasion" at the writers behest.

Mr Rankin said the operational changes had vexed the nation's crime writers and also, in his fiction, made Rebus a figure whose methods are increasingly outdated.

He said: "The way policing is structured has changed so much in Scotland in the past few years.

"We have this thing for Police Scotland, and for crime writers, any crime writer who comes on this stage will tell you how horrified we were when the change took place.

"Now if there is a murder in Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, or Glasgow a crack team is parachuted in from police HQ.

"In Edinburgh, in Leith police station, there is one room which is locked and it is only unlocked when this team comes to town. And their job is to investigate the murder or a serious crime, with the local CID reduced to a secondary role.

"So people like [DS] Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, Rebus in the past, would not be investigating murders, which is an extraordinary situation."

Police Scotland was formed in 2013 following the merger of eight regional police forces including Rebus' Lothian and Borders unit.

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Last night a Police Scotland spokesman confirmed the meeting had taken place between Chief Constable Philip Gormley and the authors earlier this year.

A spokesman said: "The Chief Constable met a number of crime writers during a private social event he was invited to attend earlier in the summer."

It is not know which other crime writers had been invited to the dinner.

But a Police Scotland spokesman said the author may have added a touch of fiction to his characterisation MIT's operations.

He said: "Major Investigation Teams (MITs) are located throughout the country, including permanently at Leith.

"They lead on the investigation of murders and other major crimes and increase the availability of dedicated, specialist officers to communities throughout Scotland.

"They work in support of and alongside local policing divisions including CID and other specialisms on a range of serious investigations."

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Mr Rankin also revealed the title and some of the contents of Rather Be the Devil, the new Rebus book which will appear in November.

Rankin said he does not know, beyond the next novel, what the future holds for John Rebus.

"These are late Rebus novels, and I am very aware that the clock is ticking big time," he said.

"Him having retired, twice, once because he hit 60 and then I found a way to bring him back in but he is gone - he can no longer be a cop, so there is only so much I can do with him: I can't believe him as a private eye."

Rankin, read from Rather Be the Devil, the new Rebus book which will be published in November, a title inspired by a John Martyn song.

Rather Be the Devil, which features Rebus in autumnal mood, centres around an old case that was never solved, a murdered woman in the Caledonian Hotel in October 1978.

October 1978 was also the time Rankin, whose first book The Flood was published, and he said the book was also a chance to revisit that point in the the history of Edinburgh.

In the book, another one of his Malcolm Fox has been promoted to Police Scotland headquarters in Gartcosh, he revealed.

The writer said he would take next year off, and attempt to celebrate 30 years since the first Rebus novel was published, and not write a new novel.