An intermittently lively but sentiment-tagged first novel about a recently widowed survivor in a decaying Bronx neighborhood--a woman who, crowded by increasing violence against the elderly, and stung by some home troths as she reflects on her marriage and motherhood, stumbles onto new rewarding relationships--as well as danger--and a husband's loving legacy. Tessie Goodman has doubts that the death of husband Barney, quiet proprietor of cluttered, debt-ridden Barney's Books, was an accident (it was)--for weren't Hispanic youths preying on old (particularly Jewish) people? Yet Barney, scornfully remarks Tessie, loved ""the element'--as the police called Hispanics--and said there were ""no phoneys"" among them. Thinking she should properly grieve, Tessie arrives at some disturbing questions: Who was Barney really? ""Did they ever have a life together?"" What about daughter Louise, ready with a suburban sanctuary, but with whom there is no intimacy? And is it only pity that she feels for her friends, the ""Black Widows""? There are mysteries too: an anonymous offer to buy the worthless store; something ""of value"" Barney left for her. At one point Tessie hires Mateo--a lethal youth who nearly killed one of her friends--to help in the store, in spite of the warnings of handsome Gloria Munoz, a successful neighborhood medium (with a degree in sociology). Before long, there are: a murder and suicide; an inter-cultural protest movement led by Tessie; new Hispanic friends; a fresh start with Louise; and mysteries solved. Now Tessie can look forward. . . Tessie herself--self-styled ""Personality with a capital P-plus""--has a certain bristly veracity, but the patter of happy endings cushions the spikes.