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On his thirty-first birthday, Liverpool nightclub emcee and budding comic Eddie Ginley visits his psychiatrist and shows him a classified newspaper ad he has taken out that reads: "Sam Spade/Ginley's the Name/Gumshoe's the Game/Private Investigations/No Divorce Work." Frustrated by Eddie's lack of progress, the psychiatrist asks him what he wants and Eddie replies, to write a book like Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon , sing "Blue Suede Shoes" and play Las Vegas. That night, Eddie receives an anonymous telephone call instructing him to go to the Plaza Hotel, room 322. Thinking he is being summoned to a surprise party thrown by friends, Eddie enters the room where a fat man watching television hands him a parcel containing £1,000, a .38mm handgun and a photograph of a young woman named Alison Wyatt. Later, after announcing the acts at the Broadway, the club and bingo parlor where Eddie works, Eddie calls the Plaza and learns that the room was rented to someone named Blankerscoon. Before Eddie leaves for the night, his manager, Tommy, tells him that he can try out a comedy spot the following night. Later, Eddie goes to the house owned by his well-to-do brother William and talks with Ellen, William's wife and Eddie's former lover. When William comes home he rebukes Eddie for his failures and Eddie insults William. The next day, Eddie finds Alison studying at the library. When he asks her if she gave him the £1,000, she says no, but after bantering with Eddie agrees to call him some time. While they are speaking, an African man sitting across from Alison sternly tells Eddie to move on. Later, near his export company, William offers Eddie money, saying it is a birthday gift, but Eddie, who mutually detests his brother, refuses. That night, after Eddie's comedy routine goes over well with the audience, he goes to Tommy's office, where he learns that someone called Tommy and threatened him if he did not fire Eddie. When Eddie later enters his flat, he is attacked by Azinge, the African from the library, who asks Eddie if he sent "the fat man," but Eddie says he does not know a fat man and tells him to get out. Eddie then calls Ellen, who comes to his flat. When Eddie suggests that it was William who made the threatening call to Tommy, it is confirmed by Ellen, who says that William did it because he was angry over the ad, which listed their home telephone number. She refuses to spend the night with Eddie, and the next morning he is awakened by an expensively dressed American woman named Mrs. Blankerscoon. She claims that she saw his ad and wants to hire him because she is being blackmailed, but Eddie dismisses her. After she leaves, Eddie wonders how she found him because his address was not in the ad. After getting a call from Alison, Eddie goes to meet her at the Labour Exchange and learns that Azinge, with whom she lives, never came home after he left for Eddie's flat. She then leaves, after which a man who had been following Eddie, John Straker, moves next to him and says he is after "the black lad and the young lady" and that Eddie took his job and £1,000 that was supposed to be his. Feeling threatened, Eddie sneaks out the back door, then goes to the train station. There he is met by Ellen, whom he had called to retrieve the £1,000 package. As she gives him the parcel, she relates that there was a dead black man in his flat and she is worried. Eddie then kisses her goodbye as he boards a train for London to trace the return address on the package. At the address, a bookshop specializing in the occult, when Eddie flirts with the attractive, spectacle-wearing clerk, she tells him her boss, who receives a lot of mysterious phone calls, is not there. Late that night, after the shop is closed, Eddie returns and roughs up the owner, who admits that the packages he sends contain heroin but that he only sends them to parcel service at the Red Star office in the Liverpool train station and does not know the person who picks them up. While they are talking, Straker enters but is overcome by Eddie, who then races into an Underground station and hops onto a departing train. Straker follows and says that he would not enjoying "knocking off" Eddie, but wants the £1,000. Eddie is able to elude Straker at the next station and the following morning arrives back in Liverpool. After Eddie confronts William about threatening Tommy, William says that he was angry over the ad, but that Ellen convinced him to help his brother by getting rid of the body in Eddie's flat. Later, at the train station, Eddie observes the fat man pick up the bookshop owner's parcel at the Red Star office. Eddie confronts the fat man, who goes to his place with Eddie. The man, a South African named De Fries, reveals that Alison, who is also from South Africa, is wanted because her father is organizing the blacks there. He also reveals that, while Alison has been abducted she is safe and that Azinge was only killed because he got in the way. De Fries also admits that he "slightly" knows Ellen. While they are talking, someone comes to the door, forcing De Fries to hide Eddie in the bathroom. The visitor is Mrs. Blankerscoon and her chauffeur, Clifford, who give De Fries an ampoule of heroin, which the fat man anxiously injects into his arm. After they leave, De Fries happily talks about going home, then falls to the floor, dead. Eddie calls the police and gives an anonymous tip about the overdose death, then goes to William's office. Although William is not there, his secretary reveals that William is meeting some people on a ship that night. Later, Eddie meets Ellen, who says she has money and suggests that they run away together. Eddie also learns from her that William has been shipping guns and other illegal items to Africa. After showing Ellen a newspaper headline reporting De Fries' death, Eddie talks with Tommy about borrowing the services of Joey, one of Tommy's men. A short time later, Joey meets Eddie and gives him a Molotov cocktail. After calling in a tip to the fire brigade summoning them to the house where De Fries died, Eddie waits until just before they arrive and throws the bottle through the window. When the contents explode, William, Ellen, Mrs. Blankerscoon, Clifford and Alison rush out of the house and try to speed away but are blocked by Joey's car. Once Eddie gets into Mrs. Blankerscoon's car, he draws his gun and has Clifford drive off. He tells Alison that she should leave with him but she says that she wants to go home because her father needs her. When the car arrives at the docks, Mrs. Blankerscoon suggests that Eddie join them, otherwise they will make sure that Eddie is blamed for De Fries' death, as well as that of Azinge, whose body she assumes is still in Eddie's flat. As Eddie leaves the car, he throws the syringe that killed De Fries into the car, takes the keys from the ignition and shoots his gun into the air, summoning the police. When the police later drop Eddie at his flat, he finds Straker waiting for him and learns that Straker, like Eddie, is merely an amateur detective who wanted the £1,000. After laughing about how incompetent William and the others were, Straker amiably calls Eddie "Gumshoe," prompting Eddie to smile and say "Here's looking at you kid." Eddie then puts on his fedora, lights a cigarette and plays one of his favorite records.