TARA MOSS SAYS she's the only scientifically proven crime writer. After undertaking a polygraph test three years ago to scotch rumours that a fashion model couldn't possibly have written a best- selling crime novel, Moss is still irritated by memories of lining up for the lie detector tests 'they do on paedophiles and serial killers'. 'It was a two-and-a-half-hour long, rather gruelling examination and at the end of it, of course, I discovered the shocking news that I was, in fact, the author of my own novels,' says Moss. The defiance in her voice is backed by a six-figure, two-book deal for her crime fiction, including her novel, Covet, which is set in Hong Kong and Sydney. Add to this her new rating by ACNielsen BookScan as Australia's top-selling author and her recent appearance on best-seller lists in Canada, Germany and France, and Moss's good humour is hard to puncture. It would take a lot to dent this 30-year-old Canadian survivor of the gossip campaign over her debut crime novel, Fetish, four years ago. 'The year after Fetish was published was the most difficult of my life, or very close to it. I don't think there's anything more insulting to someone's character to doubt that they're the author of their own work. There was a very strong reaction and backlash to the idea that a model had written a book, and I certainly never foresaw that. So much for glamour.' As soon as she mentions the word 'glamour', Moss segues into a lengthy discourse on stereotyping. Her books also emphasise that middle-level modelling is rarely alluring. 'I want to actually articulate and describe the real world of modelling because it's not all glamour.' Much of what the central character, Makedde Vanderwall - a model and forensic psychology student - endures in Covet is mundane. 'Like arriving at her apartment in Hong Kong to find the key doesn't work, there's no light bulbs in the ceiling and there's some food rotting in the corner. These sorts of things exist in real models' lives. Very few models, including myself, are being jetted around in their own plane,' she says. Makedde endures more than housework. In Covet she's hunted down in Hong Kong by the same sadistic serial killer who murdered her friend in Sydney 18 months earlier on a rampage known as the Stiletto Murders. Moss depicted the killings in Fetish and showed Makedde still recovering in her second novel, Split. Moss first visited Hong Kong four years ago. 'I knew right away that I wanted to one day write a novel with a setting there,' she says. She has since visited several times, including two trips to research the atmosphere for Covet. 'I wanted to express how exotic and thrilling Hong Kong can be, while putting Makedde in a position where she was basically a lone tourist with a language barrier to further isolate her. 'She has no support network there, no police contacts, no help. All the new sights and smells would keep her on the back foot while danger loomed ever nearer for her. I'm intrigued by the notion of physical or emotional isolation. It's when a person prevails or crumbles. I'm very cruel to my characters. I really want to make them suffer as part of building suspense.' Moss says Hong Kong allows her to indulge her old life in fashion and her new interest in forensics. 'The Gucci, Christian Dior and Dolce & Gabbana stores in Hong Kong have the most extensive collections I've seen,' she says. 'I also enjoy Sha Tin racecourse, and like to spend some time with my friends in the racing industry there. One of the security heads at Sha Tin, called 'The American' by the locals, is ex-FBI. I tend to pick his brain when I'm there.' Moss devours expert knowledge on psychopaths and serial killers, autopsies and poisons. She has forged links with forensic experts, profilers and polygraphers. She's one of few outsiders allowed into the FBI Academy at Quantico, has consulted with FBI profilers and the LAPD rape and forensics units, and counts the world's leading psychopathy expert, Dr Robert Hare, as a personal friend. Hare operates out of the University of British Columbia in Canada, is a consultant to the FBI, and collated the famous PCL or psychopathy checklist, the tool widely used to diagnose psychopaths. His advice helped her create the character of the sadistic Stiletto Murderer of Covet. Moss says psychopaths make up at least one per cent of the population, and are widely misunderstood. 'Statistically, each and every one of us will be affected at least in some small way in our lives by psychopaths, and I think there's a certain fascination with the fact that their brains function in a different way,' she says. 'As a non-psychopath, I find that really interesting. I believe that psychopaths and serial killers are the modern Nosferatu that we can use in popular writing. We used to believe in the bogeyman. We don't any more, and what has taken over from that is the very real fear of people who don't have the compassion and conscience that we have.' As a child, Moss was interested in 'the darker side, of things' and would write 'extremely gruesome Stephen King-style stories' for her classmates. She was still writing horror stories when she was discovered by a Canadian modelling agency in her home town of Whistler as a 'geeky, six-foot-tall 14-year-old', but never took writing or modelling seriously until her mother died when Moss was 16. Moss flew off to Europe with 'no photos, no contacts, barely any money, and just started knocking on doors'. Despite her success and relative longevity as a model, Moss is adamant that 'modelling was a lovely little side job, but certainly never my passion'. 'As I became more and more bored with modelling while I was travelling around, I was writing every day for myself - mostly poems and short stories.' Modelling helped Moss escape the pain of her mother's death. The fascination with death in her writing tells her that she's still dealing with the loss. 'There's a certain amount of reassurance in the resolution that crime fiction can bring. As a genre I think it deals with a lot of taboos. Death is still a huge taboo. And while the value of crime writing isn't necessarily in just exploring death, crime writing does it in a certain way that I think is important.'