"A Time to Kill" was quite a jump back into almost TV-Trek since it's set before Nemesis and everyone of the main characters of TNG is still on board the Enterprise. Actually, this novel is the 7th in a loosely connected series but apart from rough mentions of previous events you don't really need to have read the others - suffice it to say that Data had to choose between his service in Starfleet and his emotion chip (neatly tying loose ends about him not mentioning the chip in Nemesis) and that Picard fell into disgrace. I admit I read synopses of the mentioned 6 parts, but more to be better acquainted with the character background. The plot itself stands on its own.
So, what do we have here?
The main events take place on Tezwa, a remote world between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The Federation, in secret, stored weapons there, in case a last retreat in the Dominion War is needed. Now, the Tezwan leader Kinchawn readied those weapons and threatens the Klingons. The Enterprise is called to mediate - instead, the first meeting ends in disaster: the Klingon ships are destroyed by those armed weapons, the Enterprise severly damaged. Kinchawn declares war against the Klingons who, in turn, plan to invade Tezwa. An opposition on Tezwa starts to form.
The Federation President Zife and his chief advisor Azernal know that the Tezwans can't withstand a Klingon invasion force - but they now have the problem of perpetuating the secrecy about the weapons placement. The Klingons can't know that the Federation installed weapons on Tezwa, so conspiracies and intrigues are continued. Enterprise is sent back to the planet to disarm the weapons and prevent the invasion.
This is an amalgam of political intrigue, spy novel and straight-forward action plot. And, quite frankly, it loses speed once it gets to the action sequence where 6 groups try to disarm the 6 weapon control stations on Tezwa. Those parts were a bit repetitive (the teams landing on the planet, getting to the stations - of course, encountering problems - and blowing it up), and only Riker's part really gripped my interest because he fell ill due to an insect bite and therefore Razka (already known from Vanguard and Seekers) took over his group down on the planet while keeping Riker going.
This novel also starts to explain how Worf got back on the Enterprise. He's still an ambassador on the Klingon homeworld, after all, but gets caught up in a battle of loyalties to Picard and Martok. Worf essentially betrays the Klingon Empire by procuring the master codes of the Klingon ships which Picard then uses to prevent the invasion. Granted, he is the *Federation* ambassador... but his betraying the Klingons and Martok, and therefore weakening his position as Chancellor, comes too fast, without any real qualms. It's just like Picard only has to ask him to jump and Worf responds with "how high?". Betrayal is a major issue for Klingons, using spy methods has to go against their code of honor - and this doesn't really come up... a bit of a downlet.
President Min Zife is a weak puppet, the real power has his chief of staff Azernal. It sickens me to what lengths they go, including lying, putting others at risk, endangering the alliance with the Klingons, just to keep the weapons deployment to Tezwa a secret - and I ask why bother? I think the original reason was sound, the Federation was in danger of losing the Dominion War, so it was reasonable to plan ahead. Of course, after the war, the weapons should either have been removed or the Klingons at least informed. And now, Enterprise is in the middle of chaos, lost good people, one captured by Kinchawn's people and who knows what they'll do to him, and other powers like the Tholians are being involved in something they had no part in. Politics is a dirty business - but it gets even dirtier where personal ambitions and agendas are involved.
A Time to Kill is just the first part of a duology, so, of course, it ends on a mean cliffhanger. I'm really looking forward to see all the plotthreads resolved - and I really hope Azernal will get what he deserves.
On a sidenote:
This book was published before Vanguard, but I guess David Mack already was working on it. Otherwise, mentions of Ravanar, the Nalori and even Razka don't make much sense. And I guess, Mack also likes Parminder Nagra quite a lot - in Vanguard he envisions her playing Desai, in this novel he names a character after her. I definitely had fun with those tidbits.
On to "A Time to Heal".