Christian historical fiction author Stephanie Landsem is turning her attention to a true story in a new thriller, Code Name Edelweiss (Tyndale, out now). In 1933, a Jewish lawyer, Leon Lewis, convinced a handful of young Christians to spy on Nazis who were plotting to murder Jewish movie studio moguls and establish a German propaganda machine.

Landsem imagines the lives of two people who are persuaded to infiltrate groups the Nazis actually established in Los Angeles — a social club and a bookstore. Liesl, an unemployed single mother, becomes their secretary, and Wilhelm, a former detective with regrets about his past, becomes a driver. Both agree to their risky roles after Lewis shares a saying from first-century Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

PW talks with Landsem about her characters' journey to a deeper sense of what faith required of them.

How did you find the idea for Code Name Edelweiss?

I was researching the history of Hollywood for my previous book (In a Far-Off Land, Tyndale, 2021) when I read Steven Ross's book, Hitler in Los Angeles (Bloomsbury, 2019, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for history) about Leon Lewis and his spies. When I'm looking for a book idea, something has to really click. This wasn't a click, it was a slam! Lewis was prophetic in a time when most people thought Hitler was just another world leader and nobody much cared if the German Chancellor was antisemitic. Antisemitism was common in those days. Those stories have been told. I asked myself, whose point of view would be most exciting in my story? It's the spies.

Why did you make Rabbi Hillel's words a thread throughout your book?

In my research, I learned that Lewis himself was not a well man and that he had a family to support. Yet, inspired by his faith, he put himself, and a lot of his spies, the women in particular, in a lot of danger because he knew how important it was to stop the Nazis from taking over Hollywood.

Your character Liesl (whom Lewis has code-named Edelweiss), observes. "There have to be good people, good Christians, who could do something." And Wilhelm, concludes that God, works his purposes through "good people like Leon Lewis, not-so-good people like himself. [God] gave them what they needed and let them at it." Why show your characters' struggles with God?

Sometimes it is hard to trust God. We think, "God, you say you have a plan here, but what the heck is it?" The question of why God allows evil is a question people have asked throughout the ages and especially now. I think historical fiction is so popular because it often sheds light on our own time period.

How so?

We see people dividing by "us" and "them." I want readers to see that we must stand up for whoever is seen as "them" even if we are the only ones to stand up for them. I live in Minneapolis. I was here during the riots (after the murder of George Floyd). I see what is happening and I know we can't live with the idea that the only people we can stick up for are people like ourselves.